Tag Archives: Beth Gilbert

Doggy Style


The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 5th April 2023

A R Gurney’s comedy from 1995 gets a spirited revival at the Crescent.  Telling the story of New York empty nesters, Greg and Kate who find their lives overturned by the arrival of Sylvia, a dog Greg brings home from the park.  An instant bond forms between Greg and the dog, fast becoming an obsession, but Kate is less than welcoming and plots to oust Sylvia from their lives.

What lifts the play from the humdrum is the fact that Sylvia is portrayed by an actor, enabling the dog to crack jokes, swear like a navvy and be generally charming. Here, Beth Gilbert rises to and surpasses the challenge, managing to be cute and disgusting, as dogs invariably are. Yes, Sylvia is anthropomorphised but there are also well-observed instances of canine behaviour to remind us that Sylvia is not some lesser class of human – although her obvious humanity provokes thoughts about how some castes/classes/races treat other human beings. Gilbert sustains incredible energy throughout the performance, commanding the stage just as Sylvia dominates the couple’s lives.

Vincent Fox’s Greg is a middle-aged man whose life is given purpose by Sylvia, at the expense of his working life and his marriage.  His obsession borders on the unhealthy and so of course Liz Plumpton’s Kate has no choice but to intervene.  Kate is the less likeable of the pair – she’s returning to her career now the kids have gone, and so is also perhaps neglectful of her marriage, providing a hole for Sylvia to fill.  The roles don’t seem like a stretch for either Fox or Plumpton – the accents sound natural and effortless – but they both imbue the roles with enough nuance to muddy the polarised waters that separate the couple.

Jan Davison’s direction keeps things tearing along, like Sylvia straining on her leash.  The scene where Sylvia spots a cat under a car is superbly handled, wringing every bit of humour from the encounter.  The play could easily come across as a prolonged comedy sketch and outstay its welcome, but Davison keeps us hooked in and, push coming to shove, we are invested enough to care about who will prevail: dog or wife?

There is good support from Charlotte Gillet, playing three roles: Tom, a dog owner Greg befriends in the park, Phyllis, Kate’s stuck-up friend, and Leslie, a gender-ambivalent counsellor the couple consult for help.

Apart from a tendency to have his characters referring to each other by name every other line, Gurney’s writing is sharp, orchestrating some very funny situations, and of course manipulating us to feel for Sylvia as the inevitable denouement looms, keeping on the right side of mawkishness.  This is the kind of thing Ayckbourn does so well over on this side of the pond, although I suspect his Nick and Kate would be more ridiculous. I wonder if the play would be more interesting if Greg and Kate couldn’t understand Sylvia, and only the audience is privy to her thoughts and wisecracks….

An amusing evening at the Crescent, another simple yet sophisticated production.  Sylvia will go after your funny bone and touch your heart.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Bad dog! Beth Gilbert as Sylvia and Liz Plumpton as Kate (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)

Stella Performance


Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 10th November, 2019


When she has nowhere else to go, fading Southern belle Blanche Du Bois rocks up at her sister’s seedy place in the ironically named Elysian Fields – her sojourn turns out to be more like a visit to Hades.  From the get-go, playwright Tennessee Williams indicates that all is not how it seems, making us privy to the lies Blanche tells others about how little she drinks.  It then becomes a matter of time for her sordid secrets to come to light, and in true Williams tradition, for the spectre of homosexuality to rear its degenerate head (although it is only ever implied).

As Blanche, Annie Swift captures the airs and graces of the role, keeping the mannerisms and declarations on the right side of camp, lest the character become a laughingstock.  As the fantasies with which Blanche shields herself are stripped away, she becomes increasingly unable to cope with grim reality, resulting in mental decline.  Doing the bulk of the stripping is brutish brother-in-law Stanley (Ollie Jones) a domineering primate, bully and domestic abuser.  Jones is fine in the role; his Stanley has a sharpness rather than a brooding quality.  Beth Gilbert is excellent as the put-upon but feisty Stella, the bridge between her sister and her husband, between Blanche’s former life and this new, unwelcome and unsettling one.

There is strong support from Nicole Poole as Eunice and James Browning as Steve, a couple of neighbours.  Even the most minor roles make an impression:  for example, Destiny Sond as a neighbour, and Patrick Shannon as a young man making charity collections.  Joe Palmer is altogether splendid as Harold Mitchell, the antithesis of Stanley, all politeness and good manners – until he can’t have what he wants.

The production is enhanced considerably by sultry lighting (designed by Patrick McCool and Chris Briggs) casting horizontal shadows across the scene, while vibrant sunsets paint the window.  Andrew Cowie and Ray Duddin’s sound design, so effective at creating atmosphere of the street (we can hear the eponymous transport!), really comes into its own during moments when Blanche is becoming unhinged and we hear what’s going on in her increasingly deluded state.

James David Knapp’s direction creates some lovely moments of tension around the table, and the outbursts of violence are neatly handled.  Everything comes together for a blistering final act, and we are left to consider who has it worse: Blanche being taken away or Stella left behind with a man who doesn’t stop short of sexual violence.  Blanche’s troubles stem from the realisation that her husband was ‘a degenerate’ – everything she has done since his suicide has been leading her to this slippery slope, captivatingly portrayed here by Annie Swift and a powerful ensemble.