Tag Archives: Ben and Max Ringham

Thrilled to Death

DEATHTRAP

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 7th November, 2017

 

Ira Levin’s classic thriller is doing the rounds in this effective new production, featuring two escapees from Albert Square, namely Paul Bradley and Jessie Wallace as husband and wife.  He  is a playwright who hasn’t had a hit for a few years; she is the supportive wife with a weak constitution, who has been funding their life together in their smart little barn conversion in the woods… Along comes bright young thing Sam Phillips with an idea for a new play, and the scene is set for double-crosses, shocks and surprises.

Levin’s script is clever, laced with sarcastic wit and tell-tale details – if you know what to look for.  I’ve seen the play before so I knew all its secrets going in but director Adam Penford manages the twists and turns, changes of pace, the violence and the laughs with skill, providing a few jump scares along the way.

Paul Bradley dominates as the desperate and overbearing Sidney, while Jessie Wallace, unusually dowdy in her frumpy beige cardigan and not a hint of leopard print for miles, gives a restrained performance as Myra with the dodgy ticker.  Sam Phillips’s Clifford brings energy and good looks, and there is a wild comic cameo from Beverley Klein as visiting Swedish psychic, Helga ten Dorp.  Julien Ball completes the quintet as Sidney’s smooth attorney, Porter Milgrim.

Morgan Large’s attractive, rustic set bedecked with a range of vicious weapons gives the action its arena but at times Ben and Max Ringham’s music is a little heavy-handed.  Moments of violence are underscored for added atmosphere, heightening the emotion but lessening its realism.

It’s a play that deconstructs itself as it plays out.  The characters discuss the elements of a stage thriller before and after we see them enacted within the plot, and it is this knowingness that makes Levin’s piece a classic of the genre.  A similar approach was adopted much later by horror film Scream.   But like all thrillers, it’s about not-particularly-nice people doing despicable things for (usually) financial gain.  Unusually, there is no detective to wheedle out the truth – a different comeuppance awaits these plotters…

This is a solid production, well played and engaging.  A darkly delicious way to spend an evening.

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Paul Bradley and Jessie Wallace host a cardigan festival

 

 

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Old Flames

GASLIGHT

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 10th January, 2017

 

Written in 1938, Patrick Hamilton’s taut thriller is a pastiche of Victorian melodrama: an innocent girl is persecuted by an evil man but the intervention of a hero saves her from doom and thwarts the evil-doer’s plot…

Kara Tointon is a picture of innocence as the vulnerable Bella, believing herself to be going around the twist.  She is child-like, infantilised by her hubby who manipulates her every mood.  Tointon endears herself to us, keeping on the right side of pathetic and making the heightened dialogue sound natural.  As her bullying husband, Jack, Rupert Young domineers, exuding evil.  What begins as a study in mental cruelty swiftly becomes something even darker as the true nature of the man Bella married is brought to light.

It’s not all darkness: the unexpected arrival of Bella’s saviour in the form of former detective Rough (Keith Allen) brings humour and more than a touch of levity to proceedings.  Of course, this accentuates the moments of tension and suspense by contrast. Rough is a breath of fresh air to Bella’s stuffy, shut-in existence, and Allen plays him with relish in a funny and yet compelling portrayal.  There is also humour in the roles of the maidservants.  Charlotte Blackledge’s Nancy is cheeky to the point of impudence, while Helen Anderson’s Elizabeth is a masterclass in comic playing, doing so much with a simple “Yes, Miss” or “No, Miss”.  Wonderful stuff.

David Woodhead’s set design is to be savoured, capturing the oppression of Bella’s existence with a looming ceiling and dark panelling.  The set is enhanced by Howard Hudson’s lighting, which renders the action almost sepia at times, like the fading portraits on the walls, and, of course, the all-important gaslight that is so crucial to the plot. The sound design, by Ben and Max Ringham, augments the tension with dissonance, while Anthony Banks’s direction winds up the suspense like a watch spring.  Banks reins in the melodramatic excesses to keep the behaviour credible for a modern audience and this high-quality production proves this creaky old drama still has power to thrill.

You can tell it’s working when the villain is booed during his curtain call!

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Kara Tointon (Photo: Manuel Harlan)