Tag Archives: Andrea Davy

Train of Thought

THE RAILWAY CHILDREN

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Monday 11th September, 2017

 

With delicious irony, the fates delay the curtain up on this play centring around trains.  Ha, ha, universe!

But when this production from Exeter Northcott Theatre does get under way, it’s full steam ahead for a lovely piece of theatre.

When their father leaves them under mysterious circumstances, siblings Roberta, Phyllis and Peter move from London with their mother to a quaint but humble country cottage near to a railway.  As a distraction from their newfound poverty, the children take to waving at passengers on the trains, notably an ‘Old Gentleman’ who proves to be crucial to later plot developments.  They also strike up friendship with stationmaster Perks and his eldest son, John.

On the surface, the show drips with Brexiteer nostalgia for an England that never existed.  A closer look reveals this to be a place where people are nasty and suspicious when a foreigner in need enters their midst – but not E. Nesbit’s heroic children, whose only impulse is to help the poor man.  It’s a place where people worry about the expense of seeing the doctor – he runs some kind of private health insurance club the locals chip in to.

Against the backdrop of this society, the three kids learn that sharing is best, that people have pride and there is a difference between gifts and handouts.  I am gobsmacked; I had no idea the story was so political.  Dave Simpson’s adaptation of the classic novel does not shy away from the author’s socialist leanings.

As Roberta, the eldest, Millie Turner captures the essence of a girl between youth and maturity, while as her siblings Peter and Phyllis, Vinay Lad and Katherine Carlton are spirited in their immaturity.  The kids squabble but never lose their sense of decency and fair play.

The immensely likeable Stewart Wright narrates as the avuncular Perks; Callum Goulden does a nice comic turn as his tearaway offspring.  Will Richards makes a striking Russian, expressive before he even utters a word in any language, while Andrew Joshi’s increasingly knackered doctor provides much of the broader humour.  Joy Brook shines as the authoritative, firm but fair mother, all stiff upper lip and sacrifice for the sake of her children while espousing their Russian houseguest’s revolutionary ideals.

Timothy Bird’s set, costume and video designs not only evoke the Edwardian setting but add layers of artificiality, blending practical effects (a cut-out carriage is a hoot!) with projected animations, reminding us that this seemingly cosy place is not real.  Director Paul Jepson ensures the energy of his performers is not overshadowed by the impressive technical features of the production, and adds effective bits of business to keep the actors to the fore: a slow-motion moment during Perks’s birthday party, for example – there is some lovely character playing by Andrea Davy as Perks’s wife.

The iconic moments are all here.  Averting a rail disaster by ripping up Roberta’s red petticoat and waving it like mad.  The touching reunion… Misty-eyed?  Me?  Must just be a bit of steam in my eye.

All right, I admit it, I am touched right in the feels and the needle on my nostalgia dial is in the red, but most of all I am struck that this tale from a more innocent age over a century ago speaks so strongly to us today and has such currency.  There is a lot to be said for Englishness, for doing what is right, for supporting the underdog; just as there is a lot to be said against the nasty, narrow-minded, inward-looking, xenophobic attitudes of many English people today!  In 2017!  As if world events since the book first appeared mean nothing.

How much underwear do I have to tear up and wave around to stop this country going off the rails?

Mille-Turner-Vinay-Lad-Katherine-Carlton-in-The-Railway-Children_Photo-Mark-Dawson-Photography

Millie Turner, Vinay Lad and Katherine Carlton (Photo: Mark Dawson)

 

Advertisements

A Miller’s Tale

ALL MY SONS

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 24th March, 2015

 

Arthur Miller’s 1947 play – one of his great domestic tragedies – receives a refreshing new production from the acclaimed Talawa theatre company, with an all-black cast. It’s an interesting take and what ultimately comes across is that it’s not the colour of the skin, it’s the common humanity underneath it that gives this piece its power.

Joe Keller (Ray Shell) is looking forward to handing over his factory to grown-up son Chris (Leemore Marrett Jr) but Chris has other ideas. He wants to marry Annie the former girlfriend of his brother Larry, who has been missing for three years or so. Larry’s mother and Joe’s wife Kate refuses to believe that Larry is gone for good. She’s even got neighbour Frank to draw up a horoscope for Larry in the hope of reassurance.

Yes, there is tension beneath the surface but on the whole they seem like an amiable bunch – funny, even. But Arthur Miller won’t let things go on like this for much longer. Gradually, details bubble to the surface and patriarch Joe must face his past transgressions. Ray Shell is marvellous as Joe, paternalistic and funny. He and Leemore Marrett Jr share some explosive ding-dong scenes, beautifully handled by director Michael Buffong.

Also excellent is Dona Croll as the matriarch desperate to keep things together through the power of denial. In fact there is much to appreciate in this production, which comes across as more of an August Wilson than an Arthur Miller – but it is Miller who is the man of the moment – everyone’s doing him in this year marking the centenary of his birth.

There is character work to be savoured: Andrea Davy as neighbour Sue; Chinna Wodu as amateur astrologer Frank; Bethan Mary-James as Frank’s pretty wife (easily the most Tennessee Williams-like of the characters!) – all make an impression. Kemi-Bo Jacobs Ann is stylish and has great poise but I wish she wouldn’t roam around the set so much, like a graceful princess from a different story.

Director Michael Buffong needs to keep an ear on the accents, for consistency, so that they don’t roam around either.

Ellen Cairns’s beautiful set suggests the sultriness of a Tennessee Williams, although in this play it is not sexual worms that are spilling out of the can.

It all unfolds at a steady pace and though the ending has more than a touch of Hedda Gabler to it, Miller’s play still packs a punch and is served very well in this eminently watchable and emotive production.

Ray Shell and Dona Kroll (Phto: Pamela Raith)

Ray Shell and Dona Kroll (Phto: Pamela Raith)