Tag Archives: Brendan Charleson

Getting Wood

TALENT

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Saturday 28th May, 2016

 

This production of Victoria Wood’s 1978 play could not be more timely.  Planned before the playwright’s surprising and early death, it now serves as a testament to her brilliance – there is an inevitable memorial air to proceedings, but not in a dour or overt way.  The writer seems very much present; this was an early piece but the style is there: the one-liners, the bathos, the pop culture references (Norman Vaughan, anyone?) along with the witty songs, wherein pain is dressed up in clever rhymes and namedropping of high street brands.

As Maureen, Claire Greenway channels Wood at the paino.  Without attempting an impression, she evokes Wood’s delivery, the timing, the smiles, the eye rolls, while delivering the lyrics as well as Wood’s ornate accompaniments.  I could listen to this all day – but there is much more to the show.

Maureen is accompanying, in a non-musical sense, her friend Julie (Tala Gouveia) to a talent contest in a seedy club.  We go backstage with them to watch Julie prepare, which involves knocking back the Babychams, chain-smoking, and peeing in a hat.  Gouveia is marvellous – her comic timing is spot on, but there is also vulnerability there: her phone call to her no-good boyfriend perhaps reveals more to us than it does to her, and when her history comes to light with club organist Mel (Adam Buchanan), we learn why she wants to escape what her life has become.  Her chance to grasp fame is a way out.  But, not really.

Buchanan is great in his double roles as Mel and the sleazy Compere.  This is the 1970s and sexual harassment is as easy to come by as a raspberry Mivvi.  Mirroring the two women is a double act of male friends, George and Arthur.  George (Brendan Charleson) is an object study in old-school clubland entertainment, in his green jacket and Tony Curtis haircut gone white.  He styles himself as a ‘comedy magician’ and has enlisted as his lovely assistant, Arthur (the sublime Andrew Pollard).  The pair treat us to some vaudeville shenanigans, singing and dancing and some conjuring tricks with scarves and flowers.  It’s a joy to behold them.

The play’s darker side – the exploitation of women in showbiz – is present beneath the surface.  Wood makes her point subtly – above all, she wants to give us a good time.  Which she does, in spades, and it feels like one last time.  The final number has a Sondheimesque feel as, paraphrasing Cabaret, it urges us not to be alone in our rooms but to get out there and enjoy what life has to offer.

An immaculate production, a bittersweet experience, and a fitting tribute to one of this country’s greatest comedy talents, Talent reminds us what we have lost and how lucky we were to have her at all.

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Claire Greenway and Tala Gouveia (Photo: Andrew Billington)

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House Music

THE RISE AND FALL OF LITTLE VOICE

The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 20th May, 2015

 

The first thing that strikes you about this production of Jim Cartwright’s comedy is the set. Designer Colin Richmond gives us a skeletal house, a two-up-two-down framework that revolves between scenes, often with the characters in residence. It’s a remarkable construction in which to house the action – and there are further surprises: the electrics are on the blink, plunging the inhabitants into power cuts, and later, there is a house fire… The setting perfectly supports and enhances the performance style. There is a heightened quality to Cartwright’s dialogue and larger-than-life aspects to the characterisations.

Vicky Entwistle is on great form as Mari, a brash, coarse, loudmouth, mutton dressed as pork kind of woman, fond of a drink and lurching from man to man. In the opening scenes, she browbeats her shy and withdrawn daughter in what is tantamount to an extended monologue. It’s very funny and often vulgar – Mari could have dropped out of a copy of Viz magazine, and Entwistle is relentless in her energetic portrayal. In contrast, Nancy Sullivan as the much-harangued daughter L.V. is quiet, taciturn and self-conscious. When Mari brings home latest fella, Ray (Chris Gascoyne) and a power cut allows them to hear L.V. singing in her room, perfectly replicating Judy Garland, Ray (who turns out to be a showbiz agent, wouldn’t you know it?) decides to string Mari along so he can have access to the daughter and exploit her remarkable talent as a vocal impressionist. If only the girl was willing to go along with his plans, and actually set foot outside the house.

L.V.’s world becomes a little bigger when she attracts the attention of Billy (Tendayi Jembere) who is equally shy but forced from his shell by his attraction to her. Jembere is endearing as Billy, whose confidence grows along with the contact he has with L.V. Gascoyne is deliciously monstrous as the smarmy user, winkling L.V. out of her bedroom, and there is a hilarious comic turn from Joanna Brookes as Mari’s faithful and much-derided neighbour Sadie. Brendan Charleson is good value as club-owner Mr Boo, struggling to tame his Northern club audience, but inevitably, the performance of the night comes from Nancy Sullivan who is utterly remarkable as L.V. She delivers a medley of songs: Bassey, Piaf, Garland, Holliday, Monroe (Marilyn not Matt!)… and that is jaw-dropping, but then even more gobsmacking is an emotional outburst in which she switches from impression to impression mid-sentence. It’s like zapping between television channels. Never mind Little Voice’s small-scale foray into showbiz, Sullivan must surely be on her way to stardom.

Director James Brining keeps energy levels high throughout and Cartwright’s script crackles like the flames that lick at the house. The second act runs a little long, it feels, but when we reach L.V.’s finale, a valedictory rendition of This Is My Life, we are with her all the way, as she brings the house down.

Nancy Sullivan as L.V. (Photo: Keith Pattison)

Nancy Sullivan as L.V. (Photo: Keith Pattison)