Tag Archives: Anne Odeke

Magic Moments

WINNIE AND WILBUR

The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 5th April, 2017

 

The popular series of children’s books comes to the stage in this exuberant adaptation by writer Mike Kenny who captures the essential fun of author Valerie Thomas’s original while weaving in his own theatrical magic along the way.

Winnie is a witch who lives alone with her black cat Wilbur (a puppet expressively operated by Ben Thompson).  She is surrounded by other cast members who appear as other characters, as narrators, and as ‘invisible’ forces that carry out her magic spells, and so Winnie’s ‘flap-top’ flies to her lap, for example.  The devices are both simple and sophisticated, employing slow-motion and physical comedy to hilarious and inventive effect.  A ride on a broomstick, Winnie’s bicycle, and a disappearing act are all carried off imaginatively to our surprise and delight.  Director Liam Steel works his cast hard; the attention to detail and the timing are both impeccable in this larger-than-life, cartoon of a show.

Rachael Canning’s design takes its lead from Korky Paul’s illustrations, adding to the show’s authenticity as an adaptation.

Leading the piece in the role of Winnie is Sophie Russell, in a charming and hilarious portrayal.  Winnie may be a grown woman but she wears her emotions on her sleeve in an endearingly childlike manner.  Consistently funny, Russell is a joy to watch.

She is supported by an equally skilled ensemble.  Rob Castell provides musical accompaniment onstage as well as appearing as Uncle Owen and, funniest, Winnie’s sister Wendy.  Anne Odeke is a hoot as Aunty Alice, threatening Uncle Owen with dire consequences when she gets him home.  Ed Thorpe amuses as Winnie’s supposed nemesis, Cousin Cuthbert and Maimuna Memon adds to the fun as sister Wilma.  The cast only leave the stage for quick costume changes.  The jokes are rapid fire, the songs (by Marc Teitler) are tuneful pastiches with witty lyrics, and it all adds up to a magical event that is never short of amusing and often laugh-out-loud funny.

Wonderful silly fun for children and adults alike – and it’s interesting to see you don’t need innuendo or grown-up gags to keep parents and childless reviewers like me engaged, enchanted and entertained.

I have definitely fallen under Winnie’s spell.

Sophie Russell (Winnie), Ben Thompson (Wilbur) and Ed Thorpe

Sophie Russell and Ben Thompson (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)

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This Charming Man

NIGHT MUST FALL

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 28th September, 2016

 

The Original Theatre company, purveyors of classic plays, now brings us Emlyn Williams’s 1935 thriller, in their solid and dependable – and entertaining! – fashion.  Directed by Luke Sheppard, the production is not short on tension and suspense, even if you know who the murderer is – or perhaps especially because of this knowledge.  Sheppard also brings out the humour of Williams’s script via an ensemble of superlative character actors.

Gwen Taylor stars as the irascible Mrs Bramson, a grumpy curmudgeon who has to pay people to spend time with her.  This includes her niece as well as the domestic staff.  Taylor brings energy to this hypochondriac harridan and we enjoy seeing her taken in when psychopathic Dan plays to her vanities.

Niamh McGrady is bookish niece Olivia, the voice of reason in the piece, although she is seduced by the dark side into acts of moral ambivalence.  Alasdair Buchan’s Hubert, a hapless suitor, is all plus fours and bluff bonhomie, while Daragh O’Malley’s Inspector Belsize has an easy powerfulness to his presence.  Anne Odeke is good fun as Nurse Libby in her brief appearances, while Melissa Vaughan’s housemaid Dora, a girl ‘in trouble’ thanks to the aforementioned psycho, is chirpily melodramatic.  Most enjoyable though is Mandi Symonds as housekeeper/cook Mrs Terence, an hilarious counterpart to Taylor’s old battle-ax.

It is Will Featherstone who commands the attention as the enigmatic and charming chancer, Dan who, having got Dora up the duff, insinuates himself into the household as a companion/carer for the old woman.  On the surface, Dan is a lively, funny presence but Olivia’s suspicions are aroused at once.  Featherstone gives us charm and an undercurrent of threat, breaking out into flashes of insanity and derangement.  It’s a compelling portrayal of a psychopathic character – pre-Hitchcock, it has to be noted – and also Williams’s script seems to be a precursor of the comedy of menace of Harold Pinter, with its naturalistic turns of phrase and its violent outbursts.

The production grips, amuses and thrills, showing the play still works like a charm and with its theme of our fascination with murder, it is still current, both admonishing the audience’s appetite for such subject matter and giving us exactly what we want.

'Night Must Fall' Tour

Will Featherstone as Dan (Photo: Alastair Muir)