Tag Archives: Bear Pit Theatre

Come Die With Me

DINNER

Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Saturday 17th June, 2017

 

One of the many commendable things about the Bear Pit Theatre Company is they are not shy of staging productions of works that provide challenges for cast and audience members alike.  Ostensibly, Moira Buffini’s 2002 play takes us to somewhere similar to Ayckbourn country, with its premise of a middle-class dinner party attended by monstrous people.  Buffini is less subtle than Ayckbourn; here the savagery is not beneath the surface, the savagery is the surface.  Also, while Ayckbourn’s middle-class monsters are often likable or at least amusing, Buffini doesn’t bother trying to endear us to any of hers.  They’re a pretty rotten bunch and that’s all there is to it.  That’s not to say they’re not fun, and the roles are gifts for the actors.

Our hostess is Paige (an enjoyably arch Charlotte Froud).  She has hired a man off the internet to act as waiter for the evening.  The dinner party is in honour of the success of her husband’s book, success that Paige begrudges.  The book, Beyond Belief, sounds like a dreadful tome bursting with self-help psycho-babble.  Husband Lars (a strong and convincing Tony Homer) behaves like a spoiled brat and moody teen from the off.  He is also pompous and condescending in his bitterness, most of which he directs at his wife.

The sparks fly between Froud and Homer as this embattled couple, although we never really get to the bottom of why they are at loggerheads.  Could it be Lars’s reacquaintance with old flame from college, hippie throwback Wynne (Penelope Sandle-Keynes in a hilarious, detailed characterisation)?  There are cheap laughs at Wynne’s vegetarianism but otherwise Buffini serves up a buffet of barbs that are generally as sharp as poisoned darts.

Abi Deehan is laugh-out-loud funny as the blunt and outspoken Sian while Ben Coventry warms into his role as her husband Hal, providing some of the funniest moments of the night.

The dinner is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of young Mike, a stranger whose van has broken down in the fog.  Nathan Brown is instantly appealing as the cocky interloper who is not all that he claims – it’s a fine contrast with Richard Ball’s stony-faced menace of a Waiter.

Arguments boil over and fizzle out.  Rows build to crescendos and are followed by immediate silence.  This is always effective but it happens at least once too often as director Steve Farr helps his cast ride out the sometimes patchy quality of the script.  Farr injects some lovely touches of comic business and keeps the action far from static – always a danger when the set is dominated by table and chairs.

What’s it all in aid of?  There’s a lot of grandstanding, point-scoring and cod philosophical discourse.  The nature of life is bandied around between the courses of Paige’s ridiculously pretentious and ultimately inedible menu.  It turns out there is nothing like death to make you appreciate life.  The Waiter has other services to offer and the middle-class ritual of the dinner party becomes a darker and more arcane, more primal affair.

With Buffini serving up seafood and the C-word in generous measure,  this is perhaps not to everyone’s taste but there is a great deal to delight in the comic playing of this committed and capable cast.

Dinner-Web-Home


Tour de Farce

ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS

The Bear Pit, Stratford upon Avon, Monday 15th May, 2017

 

Ever ambitious, the Bear Pit brings to its intimate space Richard Bean’s hit comedy, a knockabout farce based on a much earlier work by Goldoni.  Subtle, it ain’t.

David Mears plays Francis Henshall, the conniving if dim protagonist driven by basic appetites (hunger and desire), striving to keep two employees happy – and apart.  As ever with Mears, it’s a masterclass in comedy.  Characterisation, timing and physicality are all done to perfection, although from time to time, especially in the more intense moments, it’s as though he is channelling James Corden, the originator of the role at the National Theatre.  Given Corden’s phenomenal success in the part, this is no bad thing!

Others in the excellent ensemble also dazzle.  Roger Ganner’s upper class Stanley is a wiz with comic exclamations and comes complete with comedy back hair.  Jack Sargent’s histrionic, wannabe actor, Alan, is an absolute treat, while Flo Hatton’s Pauline makes a delightfully thick ingenue. Natalie Danks-Smith’s Rachel, in disguise as her murdered ‘identical’ twin is also a lot of fun.

For me though, the show is stolen by a towering performance from Ruth Linnett as Dolly, having to tilt her beehive do sharply every time she comes on or goes off – a running gag that never gets old.  Linnett is a match for Mears in the comedy stakes, able to throw away asides to the audience with quickfire precision.

There is strong and enjoyable support from the likes of Mike McClusky as Charlie Clench, Rob Woolton as Lloyd, and Graham Tyrer in dual roles of Harry the brief and Alfie the geriatric waiter.

The laughs come thick and fast – from Bean’s hilarious script, the cast’s larger-than-life, energetic playing, and the attentive eye of director Nicky Cox who doesn’t let a detail pass her by, keeping the action focused and the pace consistent in order to maximise our laughter.

An onstage skiffle trio plays through the leisurely scene transitions – the economic almost Spartan set proves to be versatile in its suggestion of the action’s locations, allowing the actors to come to the fore.  It’s a pity there isn’t more space for the running around, which would crank up Francis’s frenetic activity, but this is a taut production of Bean’s genius with plenty of sauce, relentlessly funny and expertly executed.

One-Man-Web


Having A Couple

TWO

The Bear Pit, Stratford upon Avon, Saturday 15th October, 2016

 

Jim Cartwright’s two-hander provides the perfect opportunity for a pair of actors to showcase their skills and versatility.  Set in a pub, somewhere Northern, it introduces us to the landlord and his wife and then a host of their customers, all played by the same duo, giving us different glimpses of relationships between couples (heterosexual, working class ones, that is – the play was written in 1989, pre-diversity concerns!)

It is clear from the start that the publican and his Mrs are going through marital strife, to put it mildly.  Behind their customer service smiles and bonhomie there is bile and invective which they vent on each other at every opportunity.  But as the play goes on, the reason for this animosity becomes apparent, culminating in a heartfelt outpouring of anger and grief.

Playing all the male roles is David T Mears – his ‘Moth’ with a roving eye but a dependency on his girlfriend’s purse is as hilarious as his bullying, control freak of a husband is frightening later on.  Lucy Parrott plays the female parts – her big-man ogling woman and also her brutalised, cowed wife are standouts for me, but really, all the characterisations from this pair are well-observed and depicted.  Mears also directs and  knows when to make things broad and when to hone in on more naturalistic details.

Cartwright’s script is funny and there is a heightened, poetic quality to his writing, giving soul to his characters’ monologues.  At the heart of the piece is the couple behind the bar, their bitterness and resentment.  It all comes out in the wash for the intense final scene.  We come away having seen behind public facades into private lives – Cartwright reminds us that we don’t know what personal hell someone might be going through beneath the surface.

This production upholds the Bear Pit’s reputation for high quality work.  Expertly handled and performed, this engaging piece is well worth 75 minutes of anyone’s time.

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Rattled Cages

GOD OF CARNAGE

Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Friday 6th May, 2016

 

One young boy has knocked out a couple of teeth of another boy.  Their parents meet to discuss what is to be done.  It all begins in civilised fashion: they are agreeing the wording of a definitive statement of events.  Soon, however, as blame is hurled from one side to the other, the thin veneer of civilisation begins to crack and peel away.

Yasmina Reza’s black comedy of manners, played here in a sharp translation by Christopher Hampton, makes acute observations about the human condition – the middle-class human, that is.  One of the fathers, Michael, has tipped the family hamster out onto the road.  It’s not a wild animal or a domesticated animal, he observes.  This incident is a metaphor for the entire piece.  Out of their cages of etiquette and civility, the characters flounder.  They turn on each other but their attacks are as effectual as an assault by hamster – I imagine; I’ve never crossed one’s path.  There is always something enjoyable about seeing people behaving badly, in ways we would never dare to in our real lives.

As Michael, Roger Ganner brings Black Country bathos, forever undermining the pretensions of his wife Veronica (Penny Sandle-Keynes) whose African masks and artefacts adorn the set – clues to the primitive tribalism we are about to witness.  This powwow of chieftains is not going to be fruitful.  Tony Homer’s Alan, apparently surgically welded to his mobile phone, emits waves of cynicism effortlessly, while his brittle wife Annette (Ruth Linnett) does a marvellous turn in falling ill and getting pissed.  In short, this quartet delivers an excellent performance of well-defined characters, whose excesses are within keeping of their established tropes, and the contrasting moments of action are adeptly orchestrated by director Colin Lewis Edwards, staging a mini-Lord of the Flies meltdown in Bel Derrington’s detailed but not cluttered set.

We only care about ourselves, opines Alan – between phone calls.  Reza holds up this attitude to ridicule.  If we only care about ourselves, we are no better than selfish, squabbling children.  Like the unfortunate hamster, we need our cages for our own protection, whether those cages are good manners, convention, or indeed technology like Alan’s ever-ringing mobile.

A bleak view of society but a darkly entertaining and thought-provoking piece of theatre, tightly played by an excellent cast.  I enjoyed every wince-inducing minute.

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