New Vic Theatre, Tuesday 7th February, 2017
The New Vic has teamed up with Northern Broadsides for this new version of the classic romance by Edmond Rostand. Writer Deborah McAndrew cleverly keeps the play as a verse drama – it’s not just rhyming couplets and doggerel; it’s a technical achievement in itself, let alone its faithfulness to the original while having an altogether fresh feel. It’s her best work yet.
Director Conrad Nelson blends naturalism with more heightened moments – the changes in pace and tone of each act are handled to perfection. We laugh, we love, we cry – in all the right places. Nelson has also composed the score, performed by the ensemble of actor-musicians, that adds to the period feel and the emotional impact of each act. Led for the most part by Michael Hugo’s Ligniere, the music casts its spell as much as the story and the characters. Hugo is such an appealing presence as the minstrel – I also enjoy his ham actor Monfleury, heckled off the stage by the eponymous Cyrano.
Christian Edwards in the title role is outstanding – and I don’t just mean his massive conk. He is everything you could wish for in a Cyrano de Bergerac. Swaggering, witty, charming, brave and selfless. Edwards plays it with panache, literally and figuratively. He is supported by a team of excellent players: Sharon Singh is an elegant Roxane, headstrong and independent – worthy of Cyrano’s devotion. Adam Barlow is the handsome but dim Christian, the third point of the love triangle – he contrasts nicely with Cyrano’s erudition and we can’t help but see how sweet he is. Andy Cryer’s De Guiche changes our opinion – we see there’s more to him than the figure lampooned by Ligniere. Paul Barnhill’s poetic pastry-purveyor Ragueneau, Perry Moore’s prancing ponce Valvert, Jessica Dyas’s sardonic Mrs Ragueneau, Francesca Mills’s busybody Sister Martha, all help to populate the story with a wide range of characters, different facets of humanity – Rostand has respect for all walks of life and yet he makes Cyrano seem more human than all of us. Especially touching is Andrew Whitehead’s Le Bret, his heart breaking to see Cyrano’s decline.
Lis Evans’s design is stylish – the stage floor is beautiful – and the New Vic’s costume department has pulled out all the stops for the 17th century setting. Daniella Beattie’s lighting emulates the soft glow of the chandeliers with the occasional shaft of brightness – like Cyrano’s wit, enlivening the gloom.
Cyrano’s panache tickles the funny bone before plunging into your heart. I know it’s only February but already I think I might have seen the show of the year.
“You don’t have to put on the red light…” Cyrano (Christian Edwards) and Roxane (Sharon Singh) Photo: Steve Bould
1 Comment | tags: Adam Barlow, Andrew Whitehead, Andy Cryer, Christian Edwards, Conrad Nelson, Cyrano, Cyrano De Bergerac, Daniella Beattie, Deborah McAndrew, Edmond Rostand, Francesca Mills, Jessica Dyas, Lis Evans, Michael Hugo, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Northern Broadsides, Paul Banhill, Perry Moore, review, Sharon Singh | posted in Theatre Review
BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, February, 2015
This spellbinding production translates John Van Duren’s 1950s play to the 1970s, making it a period piece of sorts. There is something otherworldly about Michael Holt’s set. Its stylishness is offset beautifully by Danielle Beattie’s atmospheric lighting and James Earl-Davis’s eerie sound design of chimes and bells and what sounds like someone running their finger around the rim of a wine glass.
We are in Gillian’s London flat; Gillian is an independent, confident and wilful gal about town but it’s not just Women’s Lib that empowers her. She is a witch, able to manipulate situations to her advantage. When Anthony, the handsome bloke in the flat above, catches her eye and she learns he is engaged to an old school rival of hers, Gillian casts a spell on the hapless young man and he is unable to resist her.
As Gillian, Emma Pallant has a commanding stage presence – there is something hypnotic and seductive about her, something feline – like a panther in its lair.
In contrast we have her warlock brother Nicky, who sounds like Adam Faith in Budgie but dresses like Huggy Bear. Adam Barlow literally lights up the stage in a measured and nuanced comic performance. There is an undercurrent of menace offset by his flamboyant clobber and his disco strut.
Janice McKenzie is a delight as Queenie, in glorious Dracula’s Auntie costumes. Director Gwenda Hughes doesn’t overplay the laughs, instilling a level of credibility in the fantastical aspects of the plot.
Geoffrey Breton does an appealing turn as the enchanted Anthony and there’s some lovely character work from Mark Chatterton as self-professed expert in magic, the muggle Sidney Redlitch. And special mention must be made of ‘Casper’ who appears as Pyewacket, Gillian’s feline familiar. Unlike the Blue Peter cats or McCavity, he doesn’t seek to flee the scene at the first opportunity.
A thoroughly enjoyable production of an intelligent and funny play. There are no short cuts to falling in love, that magical state that renders us all too human.
Leave a comment | tags: Adam Barlow, Bell Book And Candle, Casper, Danielle Beattie, Emma Pallant, Geoffrey breton, Gwenda Hughes, James Earl-Davis, Janice McKenzie, John Van Duren, Mark Chatterton, Michael Holt, New Vic Theatre Newcastle Under Lyme, review | posted in Theatre Review
COOKING WITH ELVIS
Derby Theatre, Tuesday 30th April, 2013
Derby Theatre puts itself on the theatrical map with this production of Lea Hall’s raucous black comedy, the theatre’s first home-produced show. The venue has a history of excellence in its produced work (I remember some superb Sondheims, astonishing Ayckbourns, and a gem of a Treasure Island) but with the recent chequered past now firmly behind it, the place will go from strength to strength if the quality of this production is anything to go by.
The action takes place in a suburban house, gloriously depicted in Hayley Grindle’s two-storey set: a living room and kitchen with stairs leading up to a landing and a teenager’s bedroom. The teenager is Jill, our narrator and scene-announcer for the evening. Played with verve by Laura Elsworthy, Jill is a 14 year-old with an interest in cookery that borders on obsession. She despairs of her English teacher mother, who glams herself up and brings home strange men to satisfy her sexual needs. Polly Lister is ‘Mam’, a plain-speaking bully, masking her guilt and vulnerability with mouthing-off and heavy drinking. The strange man she brings home at the start of the play is Stuart (Adam Barlow) who works in a cake factory. Within seconds she has ordered him to strip to his underpants – this is no subtle comedy of manners, but an in-your-face sex comedy with graphic scenes and colourful language. It is absolutely hilarious.
Why does Mam bring these creatures home? The answer is painfully present in the shape of her paralysed husband. Brain-damaged in a car accident, Dad can do nothing for himself, and has to be brought on and (nudge, wink) brought off. It’s a sobering portrayal from Jack Lord but then – and this lifts the piece out of the macabre – Dad has a nifty line in Elvis Presley impersonation. He springs from his chair to link and underscore scenes with songs of The King in a range of impressive outfits. Jack Lord is nothing short of sublime.
Mark Babych pitches the tone just right and directs his excellent quartet to keep energy levels high and the characterisations just short of caricature. This kind of farcical, rather outré plot requires a broad style of playing, but also we have to accept and go along with these characters for the ride or else it would just descend into prurience and bad taste. Adam Barlow’s Stuart is sweet – for a drip – and he becomes both predator and prey as he worms his way under the table (well, on top of it!); Polly Lister is fierce and brittle, but the evening belongs to Laura Elsworthy as the young girl who goes through a rite of passage in less than ideal circumstances, guiding us from scene to scene and setting the tone for the entire piece.
The play is a kind of mash-up of Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane and Dennis Potter’s Brimstone & Treacle in terms of content and delivery, and yet has a charm of its own. Beyond the foul language and the sex on the dining table, there is real heart to the piece, and a mother and daughter who both experience a healing. Life’s not about the tragedies, Jill concludes, it’s about the tiny moments that keep us going in the dark, the smiles.
By the curtain call, you will be grinning and clapping along to Jack Lord’s closing number. You may even be on your feet and joining in the party. It is shows of this calibre that keep us going in the dark.
Polly Lister gets to grips with Adam Barlow
1 Comment | tags: Adam Barlow, Cooking With Elvis, Derby Theatre, Elvis Presley, Hayley Grindle, Jack Lord, Laura Elsworthy, Lee Hall, Mark Babych, Polly Lister, review | posted in Theatre Review