Tag Archives: Ben Mills-Wood

Thick as Thieves

THE CAPER TRAIL

Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham, Thursday 28th July 2022

This brand-new one act play, a neat little three-hander from Thirsty Theatre is showing as part of this year’s Birmingham Fest.  (It’s not all Commonwealth Games, you know).

It’s long past closing time in the museum and Carlton, the security guard, is doing his rounds.  Unbeknown to him, a notorious jewel thief has already infiltrated the building, with his sights set on the infamous Dark Ruby which bears a curse (“It sends people fucking mad” – according to Carlton).  Add to the mix an escaped convict in his underpants and the stage is set for a knockabout farce with some very funny moments.

As the hapless security man, Jason Adam quickly establishes himself as an audience favourite, while Oliver Jones’s Mason has an assured enough air to make his story of being a new starter testing the security arrangements sound plausible… Apparently, this is Ian Cooper’s acting debut, appearing as the convict in his underpants.  He displays superb comic acting and timing – as well as quite a lot of skin!  The three cast members play off each other well, lending support when a couple of lines aren’t quite there.

Writer-director Ben Mills-Wood has delivered a taut script, full of laughs, reversals, plot twists, and surprises.  Some of the reversals won’t bear close scrutiny, but while the action is flowing, we go along with it, because we’re having fun.  There are also some moments where the fourth wall gets cheekily demolished, heightening the artifice of this farcical frolic.  As a director, Mills-Wood makes judicious use of freeze-frames and blackouts to depict the cartoonish violence, along with comical sound effects. Stupid characters in clever situations make this show quite a gem.

All-in-all, a fine funny farce, although the comic business could do with tightening up here and there to give the production more polish, and to wring even more laughs out of the action.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


Half-Farced

DUPLICITY FOR BEGINNERS

Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham, Friday 23rd July 2021

This new one-act play begins as an old-school farce.  Set in a room of the Hotel Royale, two men are inadvertently there to meet the same woman.  Somehow they manage to avoid each other at first, with plenty of well-timed comings and goings through the various entrances and exits.  And, being a farce, the trousers soon come off.

Things take a darker turn when the woman fails to turn up.  Now we are in clever thriller territory—think Sleuth or Deathtrap and nothing is as it first appeared.  Writer Ben Mills-Wood has created a tight and funny script, but I’m afraid his direction can’t quite bring his ideas to the stage. He comes pretty close, though.

There is much to enjoy here, not least the writing.  There’s Jason Adam’s affable comedic stylings as the cheeky concierge; David Sims as Harvey the husband is at his strongest when he loses his temper; and Oliver Jones as the lover balances exaggeration and nuance to give an effective performance.  There are delightful moments of frame-breaking, drawing attention to the artifice and contrivance of the piece.  But this kind of thing needs consistent energy.  Unfortunately, commitment to the action tends to be patchy as the cast’s confidence ebbs and flows.

To be fair, this is the first night, so you can forgive a few stumbles, a few dropped lines, and you can expect things to shape up for subsequent performances.  The pacing needs sharpening so that every convolution of the plot hits the spot and doesn’t slip between the cracks.  It should run like clockwork, but a few cogs need tightening.  Or, to change metaphors, this diamond in the rough requires some targeted polishing to make it the gem it has the potential to be.

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