Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday 2nd February, 2019
Chekhov done right is hugely demanding of any company attempting to stage one of his plays. But if the company does get it right, the play becomes less demanding on the audience and, in fact, becomes a pleasure. Here, director Andrew Brooks gets it right, eliciting nuanced and rounded performances from his cast, in this enjoyable adaptation by Christopher Hampton.
Jacob Williams shines as neurotic young writer Konstantin Gavrilovich Triplev – (the main problem I have with Chekhov is the names. Sometimes characters use the full name, a diminutive version, or a different name altogether, so it can take a while to sort out in your mind who they’re talking about!) Williams seems effortlessly naturalistic, balancing Kostia’s jaded outlook and insecurities with passion for the theatre. Konstantin’s descent into mental illness is expertly portrayed.
As his mother, Irina So-and-so and Such-and-such, Karen Leadbetter gives us the ego of the famous actress, her insensitivity and selfishness – all at Konstantin’s expense – in a measured performance that never goes over the top. John O’Neill is more down-to-earth as her lover, celebrated writer Trigorin; he really comes into his own when Trigorin describes the writer’s lot.
The object of Konstantin’s affections, the tragic Nina is played by Hannah Birkin, who is marvellous in the part. She even performs the pretentious twaddle of Konstantin’s play with conviction. This is a story of unrequited love – most of the characters are afflicted by it, setting off a chain reaction of events.
Dave Hill is endearing as ailing Uncle Pyotr, while the mighty Colin Simmonds perfectly inhabits his role as the family doctor. Amy Thompson is the picture of misery as the lovelorn Masha, and Papa Anoh Yentumi gives an assured performance as pipe-smoking Shamrayev.
The costumes by Pat Brown clearly depict the class structure of 1895 Russia, and the beautiful set by Keith Harris and Megan Kirwin, with its tree trunks and elegant furnishings, basks in the atmospheric lighting of Kristan Webb’s design. This is a classy production of a classic play, which brings out most of the humour inherent in the text with credible characterisations that keep on the right side of melodrama.
Eminently watchable and entertaining, this is one Chekhov you really ought to check out.
Dave Hill and Jacob Williams (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)
Leave a comment | tags: Amy Thompson, Birmingham, Chekhov, Colin Simmonds, Crescent Theatre, Dave Hill, Hannah Birkin, Jacob Williams, John O'Neill, Karen Leadbetter, Keith Harris, Kristan Webb, Megan Kirwin, Papa Anoh Yentumi, Pat Brown, review, The Seagull | posted in Review, Theatre Review
BREAKING THE CODE
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday 6th October, 2018
Before Alan Turing became a household name some fifty years after his early death, Hugh Whitemore wrote this play which went a long way to establishing the computing pioneer as one of the most important figures of the Second World War. Turing’s work in cracking the code of the Germans’ Enigma machine played a major part in our defeat of the Nazis – we have a lot to thank him for.
The timeline of the play is not in chronological order. It is up to the audience to decode the order of events to build up a picture of Turing’s life story. Director Liz Plumpton keeps the staging simple, allowing clues from the script to inform us which decade we’re in. She is blessed with a superlative cast, who keep us riveted throughout. The intimacy of the in-the-round setting puts us right in the action as we eavesdrop on Turing and the people in encounters at work and at play.
Making his debut at the Crescent, Jack Hobbis is stunningly good in the lead role. Hardly ever offstage, he is utterly convincing, inhabiting the character with nuance, animation and total conviction. This Turing is eminently likeable, for all his eccentricities, quirks and directness. I suggest the Crescent treat Hobbis the way Turing treated his tea mug: chain him to a radiator so he can never leave the building! I have seen lesser performances win all sorts of awards.
The mighty Brendan Stanley is thoroughly credible as no-nonsense detective Mick Ross, and Phil Rea is also on excellent form as Turing’s Bletchley Park boss, Dilwyn Knox, a humorous cove, decidedly old-school. Angela Daniels, as Turing’s mother, adds depth to her characterisation as the action unfolds, while Sanjeev Mistry makes a strong impression as Turing’s fateful bit of rough, Ron Miller. Amy Thompson combines sweetness with efficiency as female boffin Pat Green, and Tony Daniels has a pleasing cameo as top-secret brass, John Smith. Young actor Louis Clare appeals as Turing’s schooldays chum, Chris Morcom and later dazzles as Greek trick, Nikos, spouting the language like a native – an impressive feat on its own but Clare imbues Nikos with a remarkable presence as he listens to Turing’s babbling.
Jennet Marshall’s costumes do most of the period work for the production, evoking the era superbly, while Kristan Webb’s lighting design stylishly takes us from place to place and time to time. The final moment, of Turing with his poisoned apple, will stay with me a long time.
A superlative production that is both humorous and gripping; another jewel in the Crescent’s sparkling crown. We learn a good deal about the tragic genius, who has become a hero-martyr type, a figurehead for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. I wonder if the Alan Turing Law, passed as recently as 2017, pardoning all those cautioned or convicted of homosexual acts, would bear his name if he hadn’t saved us all from fascism, or whether the long-overdue law would have been passed at all.
Genius! The brilliant Jack Hobbis (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)
Leave a comment | tags: Alan Turing, Amy Thompson, Angela Daniels, Birimingham, Bletchley Park, Breaking The Code, Brendan Stanley, Crescent Theatre, Enigma machine, Hugh Whitemore, Jack Hobbis, Jennet Marshall, Kristan Webb, Liz Plumpton, Louis Clare, Phil Rea, review, Sanjeev Mistry, Tony Daniels | posted in Review, Theatre Review
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 12th November, 2017
Harold Brighouse’s classic comedy first appeared in 1916 when the tide of women’s suffrage was running high. Set in 1880, it tells of Hobson, a widower and owner of a shoe shop, seeking liberation from the three grown-up daughters who work in his shop without pay, so he can have some peace and quiet. He sets to marrying off the younger two – the eldest, at the advanced age of 30 is beyond hope, he feels. This eldest, Maggie, takes matters into her own hands by browbeating the timid on-site shoemaker into marrying her. She then orchestrates matters so that her sisters are able to wed the men of their choosing, manipulating their father until he is worse off than when he started.
The script still sparkles with sarcastic barbs and acerbic observations and feels fresher than any episode of Open All Hours penned in more recent years.
As blustering, boozing patriarch Hobson, the mighty Colin Simmonds gives a majestic performance in a superb characterisation. The timing is impeccable; the nuances and the broader moments provide a masterclass in comic acting. He is matched by two fellow leads: Kimberley Cormack as the level-headed, assertive and somewhat Machiavellian Maggie in a formidable display – you wouldn’t want to cross her; and James David Knapp is endearing and extremely funny as the timid and shy cobbler, Willy Mossop. You wouldn’t want to be in his shoes, so to speak.
Between them, these three bring the play to remarkable life and they are supported by a strong team of players: Notably, Amy Thompson as Vickey, Emily Jane Carey as Alice, Carl Foster as Fred Beenstock, and Damien Dickens as Albert Prosser. There are memorable cameo appearances from Jo Thackwray as the haughty Mrs Hepworth and Brian Wilson as Hobson’s drinking buddy, Jim.
Faye Rowse’s set design evokes the period stylishly and effectively, while Angela Daniels’s costumes reveal not only the characters’ status but also the changes in their fortunes as the action unfolds. Charlotte Robinson’s hazy lighting suggests gas- or candlelight. Director Les Stringer hits all the comedic hotspots while maintaining the emotional truth of the situations.
Thoroughly engaging and massively entertaining, this is a splendid production of a masterpiece and is a ‘shoe-in’ for one of my favourites of the year.
The shoe’s on the other foot. Kimberley Cormack, James David Knapp and Colin Simmonds (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)
Leave a comment | tags: Amy Thompson, Angela Daniels, Brian Wilson, Carl Foster, Charlotte Robinson, Colin Simmonds, Crescent Theatre Birmingham, Damien Dickens, Emily Jane Carey, Faye Rowse, Harold Brighouse, Hobson's Choice, James David Knapp, Jo Thackwray, Kimberley Cormack, Les Stringer, review | posted in Theatre Review