The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 6th February, 2018
Emma Rice’s adaptation of the Noel Coward script makes a triumphant return to the REPa decade since its first incarnation. Trimmed down to a jam-packed 90 minutes, this new production is a roller-coaster of theatrical invention and charm. The illicit, irresistible romance of central couple Alec and Laura plays out in a crazy, stylised world in which the other (working class) characters act as a kind of chorus, their own uncomplicated love lives contrasting with the restraint and guilt of the protagonists. It strikes me, this time around, how much the elements play a part in the telling of this story: air, fire and water are particularly prevalent, in the wind that blows through the station, and water in the waves of emotion that wash over the scenes… A fire is present and the earth, is represented I suppose, by the stacks of coal to one side. The most elemental force in play though is Love.
Jim Sturgeon is every inch the English gent as Dr Alec Harvey, going against type to express his feelings. He is matched by guilt-ridden Isabel Pollen’s Laura. It’s all ‘teddibly, teddibly’ in its stuffiness but the emotions come up fresh and relatable. They are surrounded by supporting players (sometimes, physically supporting!) with old-fashioned accents – the show strongly presents a bygone age: the romance of steam locomotion, when brandy was thruppence a glass, when middle class morals defined action… Propriety has given way to political correctness in society – and this is not a bad thing, but this quaintly English piece (English in its humour, its tea-drinking) is deliberately skewed away from the naturalistic. The world was never like this, so don’t get too nostalgic for what didn’t exist.
Beverly Rudd absolutely shines as café girl Beryl, among other roles, and Lucy Thackeray’s Mrs Baggott is a remarkable characterisation and no mistake. Dean Nolan, who also doubles as Laura’s becardiganed husband, is a lot of fun as railway worker Albert, while Jos Slovick’s Stanley leads the singing, his voice at odds with his silly hat.
This being a Kneehigh show, there is live music almost throughout, played by the cast and a complement of musicians. A few Noel Coward numbers are included, because it’s not just about the brilliance of Emma Rice, you know. The production reminds us of Rice’s skills and insights as a director. There is much playful sophistication behind her ideas: Alec and Laura swooning in love, rising on chandeliers, the splash of water as they each tumble into a river, the puppet children being beastly to each other… The show bursts with ideas we appreciate on an emotional as well as analytical level. The form delivers the content in a symbolic, stylised manner enabling us to engage emotionally, rather than keep us distant through theatrical alienation.
Exhilarating entertainment that reminds us why we fell in love with theatre in the first place, this is an all-too brief encounter with brilliance and a ride you don’t want to miss.
Isabel Pollen and Jim Sturgeon getting a bit carried away
Leave a comment | tags: Beverly Rudd, Brief Encounter, Dean Nolan, Emma Rice, Isabel Pollen, Jim Sturgeon, Jos Slovick, Lucy Thackeray, Noel Coward, review, The REP Birmingham | posted in Theatre Review
DEAD DOG IN A SUITCASE (and other love songs)
Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Tuesday 27th October, 2015
Kneehigh’s latest is one of their best. It’s so good that I’m back to see it a second time less than a month after its visit to Birmingham’s REP theatre. A new version of The Beggar’s Opera this is not a good advertisement for humanity but an excellent advocate for live theatre. You just don’t get this kind of stuff on the telly or Netflix. Unbridled in its theatricality, this exuberant production pulls out all the stops to tell its tale of establishment corruption, mirroring the personal corruption of individuals. There is live music, newly composed by Charles Hazlewood, lively choreography by Etta Murfitt, and puppetry by Sarah Wright – the eponymous dog is the cutest you’ll see (before his demise, of course!).
The ensemble cast is the heartbeat of the show, expending energy and displaying versatility to bring Carl Grose’s deliciously lurid script to irresistible life. Dominic Marsh is the amoral but amiable Macheath, our anti-hero, hired to assassinate the Mayor (Ian Ross) who knows too much. The town is really in the pocket of Les Peachum and his Mrs. Martin Ryder oozes sleaze as Les but it soon becomes apparent that it’s his wife (Rina Fatania) who wears the (leopard print) trousers. Fatania almost steals the show with her grotesquely hilarious performance. I would not like to meet her down a well-illuminated alley, let alone a dark one.
Beverly Rudd is a bluff Lucy Lockit – her song about being a ninja butterfly is a definite highlight in a show that is nearly all highlights. Hazlewood uses strains of Greensleeves and Over The Hills and Far Away from John Gay’s original work to enhance his own vibrant score, which has elements of funk, jazz, punk and ska all working together. It’s infectious.
Lucy Rivers has taken over from Patrycia Kujawska as the Mayor’s widow and perhaps the only ‘decent’ character in it – her stirring violin playing is an expression of her grief, complementing her emoting. Angela Hardie sings sweetly as the Peachums’ daughter Polly – until she turns to the bad, that is, while a bekilted Giles King is a lot of fun as corrupt copper Colin Lockit, squawking into his loudhailer. Best voice of the lot though must be Jack Shalloo’s as Filch. He also appears as other characters, each of them extremely funny.
Sarah Wright’s puppets are both charming and horribly satirical. A Punch and Judy show mirrors the live action (just as the live action is a caricature of our world) but unlike Mr Punch, Macheath is ultimately unable to defeat everything life chucks at him. It’s a nasty, cesspit of a story. Director Mike Shepherd uses Brechtian ideas to entertain us. There is no revolution, the play says and I tend to agree. That should be its rousing call to action but it isn’t. It’s an entertaining wallow through the mire of our society – we enjoy these horrible people who have free rein to do what they like, and the sheer breath-taking impact of the performance exhilarates.
I will never see those anti-social wheeled suitcases in the same light. Every time I am nearly tripped by one, I shall suspect there’s a dead dog in it.
Dominic Marsh as Macheath
1 Comment | tags: Angela Hardie, Beverly Rudd, Carl Grose, Charles Hazlewood, Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), Dominic Marsh, Giles King, Ian Ross, Jack Shalloo, Lucy Rivers, Martin Hyder, Mike Shepherd, Patrycia Kujawska, review, Rina Fatania, Sarah Wright, The REP Birmingham, Warwick Arts Centre | posted in Theatre Review