Tag Archives: Ben Onwukwe

Wolf at the Door

CROOKED DANCES

The Other Place, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 27th June, 2019

 

This captivating new work from playwright Robin French tells the story of ambitious journalist Katy and cocky photographer Nick as they travel across France to interview a reclusive concert pianist in her country retreat.  It starts as a comedy, sparkling with social commentary and feels very ‘now’.  Director Elizabeth Freestone has the actors facing front as the characters ride on the Eurostar, affording us a kind of split screen view – a simple idea that effectively exposes character.  This is a production brimming with ideas, some more simple than others, but most of them are brilliantly effective.

At the retreat, a cottage in the woods, things are not what they seem.  The pianist is cagey, abrupt and mercurial.  French draws us into the mystery, offering metaphysical speculations before bringing us to the edge of our seats with shocks and surprises.  Freestone handles these gear changes splendidly, marrying the naturalism of her actors with video effects and the otherworldly music of Erik Satie.

Jeany Spark is spot on as the driven journalist, snooping around in drawers and handbags at every opportunity.  We both like and dislike her at the same time; above all, we understand her.  Olly Mott is a real treat as laddish photographer Nick, complete with that modern London accent that has cropped up in recent years.  It’s a very funny performance but played with utter credibility.

Ben Onwukwe charms as long-suffering manager Denis, a faithful retainer and exasperated host.  But the show belongs to Ruth Lass and her portrayal of the enigmatic pianist Silvia de Zingaro.  Forthright and formidable, she weaves a spell, playing Satie live on the set’s grand piano and recounting the composer’s strange personal history.  Suddenly we are in horror movie territory, isolated in the woods, with wolves on the prowl… Here French leads us up the garden path somewhat: Satie dabbled in the occult and so does Silvia.  Something happens and this snappy comedy flips into a provocative chiller.  Our intellectual response to the material becomes a more emotional, visceral one.

An engaging, entertaining and exciting new work expertly executed.  I was enthralled.

285364_Crooked Dances production photos 2019_2019

Ruth Lass (Photo: Ellie Kurtz (c) RSC)

 


Inside Story

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 27th September, 2016

 

Stephen King’s story spawned a film, that has proved to be the nation’s favourite, and now this stage adaptation by Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns.  Without the scale of the cinematic version, O’Neill and Johns focus on a select group of inmates, showing us their humanity along with the brutality and privations of the system.  I saw it when it toured last year and now it’s doing the rounds again with a new cast, I am more than happy to see it again.

Red is our narrator – Ben Onwukwe channelling Morgan Freeman in a performance that exudes warmth.  He introduces us to the hotheaded Latino Rico (Adam Henderson Scott), bullies Bogs and Rooster (Jeff Alexander and Sean Croke) and old lag Brooksie (Andrew Boyer in a heartbreaking portrayal of institutionalisation).  Into their midst comes Andy Dufresne, a man wrongfully convicted of the murders of his wife and her lover.  Andy is reserved, decent and kind, but this façade conceals a calculating mind.  Former EastEnders star Paul Nicholls gives us a Dufresne that is markedly contrasted with the larger-than-life characters around him, in a quiet, almost underplayed performance – until you see the intensity beneath the surface.  Dufresne is almost a Messiah figure to the others – and we all know how Messiah’s get treated.

Daniel Stewart impresses as the vicious screw Hadley but the villain of the piece is the god-bothering governor, Warden Stammas – a commanding Jack Ellis, oozing evil.

Director David Esbjornson handles moments of tension well, leavening them with humour, while Chris Davey’s lighting aids and abets Gary McCann’s all-purpose set to create different spaces within the prison.  There is violence and brutality, depicted and implied and the escape, when it happens, is presented symbolically – a beautiful moment.  As with last time, I can’t help noting how sparsely populated this prison is.  Pre-recorded voices go some way to give the impression of hordes of inmates off-stage – perhaps something could be done with local volunteers at each venue to flesh out scenes in the exercise yard, for example… I don’t know.

That aside, the play provides a compelling evening, even if you’ve read the book or seen the film countless times.  And the ending packs a punch right to the feels, as King reminds us that hope is a good thing and sometimes it pays off.

Excellent.

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