Tag Archives: Andrew Ryan

Playing Doctors and Nurses

MINDGAME

Belgrade Theatre, Wednesday 14th March, 2018

 

Prolific writer Anthony Horowitz turns his attention to the stage with this small-scale thriller very much along the lines of mega-hits Sleuth and Deathtrap – plays that have a small cast, an intriguing plot and more twists than a Chubby Checker convention.  The set-up: we meet Styler, waiting in the office of Dr Farquhar, in an upmarket mental health facility aka hospital for the criminally insane.  Styler, dictating into a recorder, doles out exposition: he is a true-crime writer come to interview notorious inmate, the serial killer Easterman, for his next project; the doctor has been keeping him waiting for two hours…

We pick up right away that things are not what they seem.  Contradictions in the dialogue and, more subtly, changes in the set: a video screen for the window changes imperceptibly, for example.  As soon as Farquhar shows up, the plot gets into motion.  The doctor is something of an oddball – and the discerning audience member will be trying to pre-empt the surprises and guess the outcome.

It’s played with conviction.  Andrew Ryan’s Styler and Michael Sherwin’s Farquhar complement each other well, with the doctor more often than not holding court, adding to the weirdness and the unsettling feeling that something bad is about to take place.  Making up the trio is Sarah Wynne Kordas as Nurse Paisley – or is she?  Violence erupts, power shifts, layers of falsehood and diversion are stripped away… There are a few gasps from the audience who don’t see things coming, but the plot, rather than thickening, seems diluted by each new turnabout, and there are holes in the logic you could drive an ambulance through.

What we are left with is a bit of a mess, an exercise in unpleasantness that doesn’t measure up to the aforementioned greats of the genre.  It’s well-presented and director Karen Henson focusses our attention and gives us surprises at all the right moments but for me the play doesn’t gel, and mental illness as entertainment has surely had its day. I’m not crazy about it.

Not as clever as it pretends, Mindgame teases, amuses and puzzles but is ultimately unsatisfying.

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Michael Sherwin and Andrew Ryan enjoy a cosy chat

 

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What a Dick!

DICK WHITTINGTON

Birmingham Hippodrome, Wednesday 21st December, 2016

 

The Hippodrome’s pantomime is invariably the biggest and boldest and this year marks the triumphant return of John Barrowman to the theatre after an absence of eight years.  And it was certainly worth the wait.  Barrowman is the consummate entertainer, singing, dancing, joking, working the crowd, all with his trademark boundless energy and enthusiasm.  Star quality is written all over him – and with such a big star, the production values rise to meet him.  From start to finish, the extravagant staging, with many a Wow moment, impresses your socks off, including the now-obligatory 3D sequence.

It begins with EastEnders’ Steve McFadden as King Rat – we quickly learn even he is not the biggest rat in London.  McFadden clearly enjoys himself playing the villain and he handles King Rat’s doggerel verse with aplomb.  He also shows himself to be a good sport, as straight man to Idle Jack’s mockery.  Idle Jack is played by Hippodrome panto favourite Matt Slack (he’s already booked to play Buttons next year!) and the warm welcome he receives when he first appears almost takes the roof off.   Slack is a talented clown and mimic, relentlessly funny and highly skilled.

Andrew Ryan returns to play the dame, Sarah the Cook, delivering the goods – I feel he could be given more – a slapstick or ‘slosh’ scene, which is the only sixpence missing from this Christmas pudding.

Much laughter is to be had because of veteran double-act the Krankies, whose humour and routines slot right into the panto format.  The act still works and their adlibs are sharp and hilarious.  It’s only disturbing if you think about it…

Jodie Prenger makes a sprightly Fairy Bow Bells – her voice blending sweetly with Barrowman’s for a duet.  Danielle Hope is a charming Alice and Kage Douglas’s good-looking Sultan is a pleasant surprise.  Taofique Folarin’s Brummie Cat is also a treat – again, I would like to see him being given more to do.

The cast is supported by a tireless company of dancers (choreographed by Alan Harding) and a hard-working band under the baton of Robert Willis.  Ben Cracknell’s lighting enhances the special effects (courtesy of The Twins FX) while remaining in keeping with traditional panto conventions.

There’s more of an adult tinge to the humour than other shows in the region, making this a panto that caters to all tastes.  All in all, this Dick is a breath-taking spectacle to make you laugh-out-loud and ooh and aah.  Once again, the Hippodrome pulls out all the stops and provides a highlight of the season.

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Not Short on Fun

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS

Malvern Theatres, Thursday 19th December, 2013

 

Once again Malvern Theatres come up with a Christmas cracker of a pantomime – it works so well because it upholds the familiar traditions of the genre.  At the helm is Chris Pizzey who not only directs (and provided additional material to Andrew Ryan’s marvellously corny script) but also appears as funnyman-in-chief, Muddles, jester to the Wicked Queen.  Pizzey has an instantly likable persona, energetic and clearly enjoying himself.

My only quibble with this Snow White is it takes a while to get going.  I’m not sure that reading out birthday messages and shoutouts to members of the audience is best placed in Muddles’s first monologue.

Olivia Birchenough is a perky Snow White with a more than decent singing voice.  Songs from the Disney animated feature are put to good use along with more up-to-date pop numbers that get the youngsters in the audience singing along.  Pantos that use ‘original’ songs miss a trick in terms of audience engagement.  Seasoned old pro Charles Burden (if I may call him that) is a splendid dame, Snow White’s nursemaid, Dolly, holding his own when it comes to banter with the audience and working like a dream with Pizzey in time-honoured panto routines.

Sue Holderness is an impressive, imperious and enjoyable villain – you almost want her evil plot to succeed!   It is her Wicked Queen who steers the silliness into darker waters.  When she offers Snow White the poisoned apple there is genuine tension in this iconic moment, even though we know what’s going to happen.  The kiddies near me were thoroughly caught up in the action.

Ben Harlow is a charming Prince Frederick, dashing in a camp and goofy kind of way, and director Pizzey gets a lot out of his strong singing voice and his comedic skills.  Pizzey also capitalises on the talents of one of the dwarfs in particular, bringing out ‘Smiler’ (Jamie John) to join the nurse, Muddles and the Prince for a raucous rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas – although I have seen rowdier.

Routines like the ghost scene are executed superbly well, proving that the traditions and tropes of the form are still effective and still have currency in the hands of skilful performers.  And above all, it’s still very, very funny.

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Robinson Squashed

ROBINSON CRUSOE & THE CARIBBEAN PIRATES

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 18th December, 2012

 

If you were on the quiz show Pointless and asked to list traditional pantomimes, I’d wager that Robinson Crusoe would not spring immediately to mind, but here it is.  It was in fact refined and panto-ised by the king of pantomime scripts, the late great John Morley many, many moons ago, bringing in elements of Dick Whittington (the shipwreck) and Aladdin (the baddie needs something from the hero in order to reach some hidden treasure).  This latest mutation emphasises the pirates Morley introduced, no doubt to cash in on a recent popular film franchise.  It deffo ain’t Defoe.

None of this matters with this production.  The story is incidental, amounting to nothing more than some loosely linked scenes.  If you try to follow what’s going on, you lose the plot very quickly.  This production is all about its big star, Brian Conley, an irrepressible force of showbiz who appropriates pantomime as a showcase for his talents.  He appears as the eponymous Crusoe, acknowledging from the start in a hilarious video sequence the similarities to the Buttons he gave us in this venue last year.  His crooning is interrupted by a tumble off-stage into the pit – This is this year’s fad, evidently.  Conley is a very watchable, amusing entertainer and no expense has been spared, it seems, to support his shtick.  Corny jokes are amplified by specially-made props, and there are some theatrical effects (Conley is shrunk in a magician’s cabinet, and carried in a cage by a gorilla) that are delightful.

He is matched in stage presence by Lesley Joseph in the good fairy role, the Enchantress of the Sea.  When they appear together, it is clear they are enjoying themselves immensely.  Joseph brings the right amount of camp diva to proceedings.

Audience participation is taken to a new level.  Conley wheels on a TV camera and turns it on the crowd.  Suddenly punters’ faces are projected large on a screen.  He singles out a man to insult.  It made me squirm in a relieved-it’s-not-me way and reminded me of a show I saw earlier this year that consisted of little more than this kind of abuse.  Later a woman is brought on stage to join in with a dance number – you guessed it, Gangnam Style, this year’s Japanese knotweed of a song.   It’s good-natured cheekiness rather than any aim to offend – that is how Conley operates.  I didn’t like a couple of throwaway lines that are out of place in a show like this. More palatable is the moment when Conley interacts with children, for the sing-along number, confirming him as an all-round popular entertainer, quick-witted and energetic.

Gavin Woods impresses as the villain of the piece, battling to stay in character as Blackheart the pirate in the face of Conley’s comic capers.  It seems that most of the plot development falls to him; his gloating monologues keep us in touch with what the hell is going on.  Kathryn Rooney as love interest Polly earns her money just by getting half-eaten apple spat on her face every performance.

As ever, the Hippodrome delivers spectacle and wonder on the grandest scale in the country.  There is a scary sea monster and, inexplicably, a flying car.  The set pieces and production numbers dazzle with an extravagance you don’t see in other pantomimes and Conley is correct to acknowledge the hard work of the Hippodrome crew in setting up and running a show of this magnitude.

It struck me that no matter the spectacle, it is the snot and fart jokes and the traditional pantomime routines and patter that work the best.  The prime example of this is Andrew Ryan as the dame, Mrs Crusoe.  Here we have a seasoned and skilled performer who works every line and every bit of business, the perfect complement to Conley’s anarchy.

I think anarchy is the key word.  The show is organised chaos.  Without a familiar plot to keep us anchored in events (compared to that most tightly-plotted of pantos, Cinderella, for example) we don’t know what might happen next but it certainly is great fun finding out in this theme park ride of a show.

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