Tag Archives: Ben Goffe

Troy Story

DIDO – QUEEN OF CARTHAGE

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 11th October, 2017

 

Kimberley Sykes’s new production of Christopher Marlowe’s classic romantic fantasy is, in short, a corker.  This is a world where gods interfere directly with the lives of mortals – the two species are differentiated by costume: the gods in modern day dress, the humans in period costume.  It can be no accident that Jupiter (the wonderful Nicholas Day) bears more than a passing resemblance to RSC Artistic Director Mr G Doran… Ellie Beaven is glamorous in a Miss Scarlet gown as the meddling Venus, and Ben Goffe is in good form as the cheeky, mischievous Cupid, pricking his victims with a syringe of Venusian blood.

As the eponymous monarch, Chipo Chung is every inch the regal ruler, albeit an accessible and hospitable one.  Her attachment to the warrior Aeneas (Sandy Grierson) unleashes passionate and capricious emotions; Dido is very much in the Cleopatra vein, at the mercy of her passions – and so is everyone else.  Chung is fantastic, compelling and credible in her excesses of emotion.  Grierson makes a fine paramour as Aeneas – he does come across as a little bit quiet at times but his recounting of the Trojan War is a vivid and gripping piece of storytelling.

Kim Hartman does a pleasing turn as a Nurse, tricked and pricked by Cupid, and Andro Cowperthwaite is especially alluring as Jupiter’s toy boy Ganymede.  Bridgitta Roy stalks around with a stick as the conniving Juno and Amber James brings intensity as Dido’s sister Anna.  I also like Will Bliss’s somewhat rangy Hermes, with wings in his hair.

Mike Fletcher’s original compositions, played live by a tight ensemble, add plenty of locational colour, while Ciaran Bagnell’s versatile lighting plan brings texture and variety to the deceptively simple staging.  Designer Ti Green gives the actors a stage covered in grey sand.  Pristine at first, it is soon disrupted and imprinted by the footprints of all the comings and goings.  It says a lot of the impermanence of life, I find, how easily our presence can be erased.

Above all, the show is a lot of fun.  Heightened action, passions running at full tilt – you can see why the tale is well suited for opera – stirring emotions and more humour than you might expect.

The show contains a lesson in how refugees might be treated, as people today continue to flee for their lives from war-ravaged countries.  Unfortunately, men (it’s invariably men, isn’t it?) persist in committing the atrocities Aeneas describes – but where is the divine intervention now?

Dido_ Queen of Carthage production photos_ 2017_2017_Photo by Topher McGrillis _c_ RSC_231594

Yass, Queen! Chipo Chung as Dido (Photo: Topher Mc Grillis (c) RSC)

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Fun With Dick and Edna

DICK WHITTINGTON
The New Wimbledon Theatre, London, Tuesday 20th December, 2011

I was surprised to learn that this was self-proclaimed megastar Dame Edna Everage’s first foray into pantomime – one would think that this most famous of drag acts would be ideally suited to a genre that relies heavily on cross-dressing and innuendo.

I’m a fan of Barry Humphries. His characters, Dame Edna and Sir Les Patterson, are Australian monsters and wonderful creations both, but where this appearance of Melbourne’s most famous housewife didn’t quite work for me was – well, practically every time she strode or flew onto the stage. Her first entrance, flown across the auditorium in a giant wombat, had great impact and was greeted with delight and a warm welcome. After that it went downhill very quickly. The rest of the cast abandoned the stage, leaving Dame Edna to perform a monologue, a Dame Edna monologue rather than a pantomime monologue – and there’s the rub. Parents and grandparents and other assorted oldies enjoyed the suggestive jokes but after a couple of minutes, the kids were growing fidgety. It was as though they were being ignored for a few moments and the action had ground to a complete standstill. This was a pity because up until that point, things had been cracking along apace with hit-and-miss corny jokes being fired relentlessly at us – the bulk of them from Kev Orkian as Idle Jack and Eric Potts as Sarah the Cook. That’s right, kiddies, two men dressed as women in this production and it’s not even Cinderella! Sarah the Cook is more grotesque than Dame Edna, more outlandish in her attire, but her characterisation and involvement in routines all work within the world of the show. Dame Edna seems an interruption, an add-on, rather than an assimilation.

And that’s what panto is about: assimilation. Topical references and catchphrases are all brought into the world of the show, anachronistically and satirically. A mention in panto means you have become mainstream. The audience bonds in its recognition and laughter. Idle Jack breaks into a chorus of Go Compare with very little provocation, the Beckhams are mocked, Deal or No Deal is invoked… The performance ends with the entire company belting out a rendition of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, for pity’s sake!

The intrusion of Dame Edna aside, the rest of the show gels extremely well precisely because it doesn’t deviate from the time-honoured structure of the story. Baddie King Rat (Richard Calkin) is perhaps a little underused but the two main comedians, Orkian and Potts, milk the fun for all its worth. There is a kitchen scene involving self-raising sausages that is especially hilarious – hearkening back to ancient Greek comedy, but you don’t need to know any of that to sit back and enjoy the show. The pair (of actors, not sausages) is strongly supported by Ben Goffe as the diminutive Captain Titchworth. His treatment at their hands during a riotous rendition of The 12 Days of Christmas borders on bullying – he is evidently a very good sport as well as a skilled tumbler.

Sam Attwater’s Dick is upright and appealing but the show belongs to the comic performers. Stoke-on-Trent stalwart, Eric Potts provides not only a powerful turn as the dame but he also directs the action and has written the script, forged from his vast knowledge of the genre. He knows the traditions and has a lively ear for contemporary references to make those traditions seem fresh. He must be the king of pantomime these days, more than deserving of that crown since the passing of the great John Morley.

We are treated to a 3D sequence – a growing trend at pantomimes – for which we are obliged to don Dame Edna glasses. This is fun and very effective but I worry that the more traditional black theatre routines will be lost altogether. It is somehow more magical to see special effects done live than on a video clip.

All in all this is a very strong show. Dame Edna needs to be in role as a panto character rather than a visting dignitary who brings things to a halt (literally, in one scene!), bringing with her pacing problems.

Otherwise it rattles along at a rate of knots,
Thanks to script and direction by Eric Potts.