THE LOVELY BONES
The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 31st October, 2018
Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel is brought to the stage in this compelling adaptation by Bryony Lavery. Essentially, it’s a ghost story, but one that is told from the ghost’s point of view. Our narrator is Susie Salmon, the 13-year-old victim of rape and murder at the hands of her neighbour Mr Harvey. What keeps young Susie bound to the Earth is her determination to bring the identity of her killer to light, her need to have her body found, and her refusal to accept death before she has really lived
Charlotte Beaumont dominates as the energetic, indomitable Susie in a lively and irresistible portrayal. Susie’s anger, confusion, frustration and especially her humour all shine through. As the story develops, we feel the loss of this innocent, lovely girl. Beaumont is supported by a strong ensemble to tell the story, several of them doubling up roles.
As Susie’s parents, Emily Bevan and Jack Sandle tackle the difficult emotions of losing a child, and the scenes in which Mom, but especially Dad, reminisce and ‘see’ Susie are particularly effective. Ayoola Smart grows up before our eyes as Susie’s little sister, Lindsey. Karan Gill is sweet as Susie’s would-be boyfriend Ray Singh and also very funny as Holiday, the family’s dog. Bhawna Bhawsar contrasts the authoritative role of Franny, Susie’s after-life guide, with the blasé weariness of Ray’s mother, Ruana. Pete Ashmore convinces as Detective Fenerman, and I particularly like Natasha Cottriall’s goth girl Ruth and Susan Bovell’s sardonic grandmother, Lynn. But it’s Keith Dunphy’s creepy Mr Harvey, disturbing in his ordinariness, who is my man of the match.
Lavery’s script is infused with dark humour, alleviating the tension and the grimness of the subject matter. Director Melly Still keeps the staging deceptively simple: the rape-murder is narrated by Susie while off-stage voices provide the soundtrack. As ever, what is suggested is more powerful than what is shown. The set, by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita, is little more than a rectangle drawn on the floor, but the mirrored background affords us dual viewpoints of the action, as though we’re seeing two dimensions: Susie’s ghostly one, and the real world in which life goes on without her. This mirror gives some striking imagery: Ray and Susie rolling around on the floor become figures in flight. Emily Mytton’s eerie puppetry – the dresses of other victims – add to the ghostliness and horror, while Matt Haskins’s lighting and Helen Skiera’s sound frequently assault us, flaring up and blaring out, as though to remind us of the wrongness of Susie’s fate, as well as to jar Susie against the confines of her ghostly presence.
It all adds to up to a highly powerful piece of storytelling, funny, emotional, sickening, terrifying and moving. The show manages to chill, break, and warm your heart. An absolute must-see.
Innocence and guilt: Charlotte Beaumont and Keith Dunphy (Photo: Sheila Burnett)
Leave a comment | tags: Alice Sebold, Ana ines Jabares-Pita, Ayoola Smart, Bhawna Bhawsar, Bryony Lavery, Charlotte Beaumont, Emily Bevan, Emily Mytton, Helen Skiera, Jack Sandle, Karan Gill, Keith Dunphy, Matt Haskins, Melly Still, Natasha Cottriall, Pete Ashmore, review, Susan Bovell, The Lovely Bones, The REP Birmingham | posted in Review, Theatre Review
The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 11th April, 2018
This new production from Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal rocks into town with an irresistible swagger. Composer Hannah Peel’s score is designed to quicken the heartbeat, the drum-heavy arrangements tribal and exciting like jungle drums. Our jungle is the criminal underworld of 1950s Brighton, where rival gangs of protectionists rule the streets.
Leading one such gang is Pinkie – a perky performance by Jacob James Beswick. His Pinkie is cocksure, tough and volatile, who sees his youth (aged 17) as no handicap. In fact, his lack of years is a plus: he can’t be hanged for his crimes. He also has a cavalier attitude to eternal damnation – planning to play the Catholic get-out-of-Hell-free card by repenting in the last minute of his life. Superstition is a recurring theme, be it church-going or dabbling with a Ouija board.
Pinkie promise: Jacob James Beswick (Photo: Karl Andrew Photography)
Sarah Middleton is the perfect contrast to Pinkie in every way as Rose, the girl whose affections Pinkie waylays in order to stop her from going to the cops with what she knows. Rose is blinded, not by the vitriol Pinkie waves in her face, but by his attentions, proving herself fiercely loyal albeit misguided. A tight ensemble plays the supporting roles, notable among them is the versatile Angela Bain, as Spicer, a priest, and others. Jennifer Jackson, appearing as the ultra-cool rival boss Colleoni, is responsible for the stylised movements – the violence is savagely choreographed – and Jackson performs a sinuous bit of expressive jazz dancing to accompany the turmoil of the lead characters.
Dominating the action is Ida, seeking justice for a murdered beau. Gloria Onitiri is thoroughly magnificent. Funny, determined, passionate and with a dirty laugh, she also treats us to her rich singing voice in a couple of cool torch songs.
The show is ineffably cool in the way that bad boys are cool. But we are definitely on Ida’s side, as the moral compass of the story.
Director Esther Richardson keeps things slick and sharp as a razor, employing the ensemble as stagehands to keep the action continuous and the transitions seamless. Bryony Lavery’s splendid adaptation of the Graham Greene novel delivers the feel of the era, the argot of the underworld, while Sara Perks’s all-purpose set evokes Brighton Pier chief among the other locations. There is a Kneehigh feel to proceedings with the stylisation, the onstage musicians and so on – and there’s nothing wrong in that. Quite the contrary!
Gripping, entertaining and inventively presented, this is one stick of rock that has QUALITY running all the way through it.
The mighty Gloria Onitiri as Ida (Photo: Karl Andre Photography)
Leave a comment | tags: Angela Bain, Brighton Rock, Bryony Lavery, Esther Richardson, Gloria Onitiri, Graham Greene, Hannah Peel, Jacob James Beswick, Jennifer Jackson, Pilot Theatre, review, Sara Perks, Sarah Middleton, The REP Birmingham, York Theatre Royal | posted in Review
The REP, Birmingham, Saturday 3rd December, 2016
A favourite book of mine, Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic pirate adventure is brought to the stage in this adaptation by Bryony Lavery, which remains on the whole true to the original – in spirit as well as plot – while adding a fresh spin: Jim Lad is a girl. She behaves like the heroic boy of the original but proudly defies the gender norms of the age – and why not? There were female pirates aplenty (most notably Ann Bonney and Mary Reade) – the point is it’s the story that matters and not what the characters may or may not have in their breeches. Similarly, Doctor Livesey is here a woman, which may be stretching a point historically, but levels the playing field somewhat in this male-dominated story. Director Phillip Breen sets his production on the stage of an old theatre. Trappings of stage and of ship are equally in evidence. We are left in no doubt this is storytelling, and in keeping with the season, principal boys are fair game!
Breen and Lavery make no concessions to the family audience. This is a dangerous, violent world, bloody and frightening – perhaps not suitable for pre-school children but anyone else should find it gripping, tense, and atmospheric. There is a darkness to the production as much as the tale and it’s all the better for it.
Sarah Middleton is a plucky, heroic Jim with a sweet singing voice and boundless energy. Michael Hodgson’s sinister Long John Silver stalks around, redolent with menace and treachery. Does he really care for Jim or is it all part of his nefarious plotting? The ambiguity keeps us guessing, although Lavery changes Silver’s fate and so robs him and his relationship with Jim of some of its complexity. Tonderai Munyeyu is great fun as the dunderhead Squire Trelawney, while Sian Howard provides the perfect counterpoint as the level-headed Doctor. Dan Poole’s Black Dog and Andrew Langtree’s Blind Pew are genuinely scary. Dave Fishley appears in two broadly contrasting roles: his Billy Bones is marvellously evocative, a swashbuckling, larger-than-life pirate, while his Gray is hilariously the opposite. Man of the match for me though is Thomas Pickles’s unhinged Ben Gunn, quarrelling with himself in a manner that is funny, alarming and endearing all at the same time. Marooning someone is surely the pirates’ cruellest punishment.
Dyfan Jones’s compositions enhance the atmosphere. The songs and shanties sound in keeping with the genre and period, just as Mark Bailey’s design is grubbily theatrical and reminiscent of the glorious illustrations you find in old editions of the novel. Fight scenes (by Renny Krupinski) are fast and furious, fun when they need to be. When even the parrot puppet (operated by Suzanne Nixon) can pluck out your eyes, you know this is not some cosy panto – That is not to say there is not humour, there is, but this arises from character rather than the imposition of artificial situations and routines.
A top-notch family show then, perhaps unsuitable for the very young, but if it’s a rollicking, superbly presented adventure you’re after this holiday season, you need to set sail for the REP and get on board with this excellent production.
Aar, Jim Lass. Michael Hodgson as Long John Silver and Sarah Middleton as Jim (Photo: Pete Le May)
Leave a comment | tags: Andrew Langtree, Bryony Lavery, Dan Poole, Dave Fishley, Dyfan Jones, Mark Bailey, Michael Hodgson, Phillip Breen, Renny Krupinski, review, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sarah Middleton, Sian Howard, Suzanne Nixon, The REP Birmingham, Thomas Pickles, Tonderai Munyeyu | posted in Theatre Review
Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Thursday 13th March, 2014
Bryony Lavery’s new play, created in collaboration with Frantic Assembly is the stuff of horror films. When their house falls victim to flooding, Joff and Marianne, along with their daughter, are invited to spend the night in the home of neighbours Ollie and Maud, who also have a daughter. The two girls play together, off-stage and unseen, while the adults get to know each other over a bottle of white rioja and Ollie’s special peanut sauce. A comedy of manners ensues as Joff and Marianne react to their hosts’ religious convictions in a beautifully played and very funny scene around the dinner table.
The evening takes a turn for the weird long before a terrible life-changing event that stems from Ollie and Maud’s well-meaning plan to ‘cleanse’ their guests’ wayward daughter.
For the most part naturalistically performed, the piece is given a peculiar feel by its pared-down set. Empty frames form doorways and corners, suggesting different rooms and locations. Odd angles add an expressionistic element – the actors move the set around in a graceful, choreographed manner and it’s surprising how evocative these sparse lines are, pushing the emotions of the characters to the fore, leaving the audience to imagine things like décor, furniture and objects.
Andy Purves’s lighting design gives a Caravaggio-like appearance to some of the scenes. With the addition of Carolyn Downing’s design for sound, the lighting gives us a few ghost-train scares. It’s extremely effective.
Director Scott Graham keeps the action accessible and the people relatable although inhabiting a highly stylised space. Their gravity-defying suspension on ropes changes our perspective and keeps a sense of ‘otherness’ running through the performance. Events have thrown these lives off-kilter; the characters are adrift in familiar settings that have become unworldly to them.
Eileen Walsh (Marianne) and Christopher Colquhoun (Joff) are excellent as the ordinary couple overwhelmed by a nightmare, while Richard Mylan (Ollie) and Penny Layden (Maud) keep the weirdo neighbours credible. Bryony Lavery’s writing is as sharp as ever – there is a kind of poetry to her naturalistic dialogue that is mirrored by the eerie beauty of the production style.
Stark, gripping, funny, inventive and scary, The Believers holds belief up to question in a way that reminded me a little of Dennis Potter’s Brimstone & Treacle, and provides a thought-provoking, entertaining trip to the theatre.
Leave a comment | tags: Andy Purves, Bryony Lavery, Carolyn Downing, Christopher Colquhoun, Coventry, Eileen Walsh, Frantic Assembly, Penny Layden, review, Richard Mylan, Scott Graham, The Believers, theatre review, Warwick Arts Centre | posted in Theatre Review
The REP Studio, Birmingham, Monday 10th February, 2014
We are accustomed to seeing sign language interpreters at the side of the stage, translating plays for deaf audience members. New theatre company fingersmiths give us much more than that in a way that enhances the performance for those of us fortunate to be able to hear.
Each of the three characters in Bryony Lavery’s 1998 play is portrayed by a pair of actors, one speaking, the other signing. The result is more than translation. Often the signer reveals the inner life of the speaker. Sometimes the signs anticipate the words – it’s an intriguing psychological approach to a play that deals with the human mind, its workings and malfunctions.
And so we get parallel performances occupying the same space, but the actors are also linked, like shadows, like reflections, like twins. It is absolutely captivating.
The play deals with the disappearance of a young girl and the subsequent arrest of a man charged with her abduction and murder. As the girl’s mother, Hazel Maycock is superb, delivering monologues in an offhand, matter-of-fact fashion that Alan Bennett would kill for. This serves to intensify the anguish of later, heart-rending speeches. Equally powerful is Maycock’s signing counterpart, Jean St Clair. By definition, the signers give a more expressive performance, as counterpoints to the naturalism of the speaking players. It’s hypnotic.
Marvellous Mike Hugo is stunningly good as serial killer Ralph, convincing in his psychosis and outbursts of rage. He and his signer Neil Fox-Roberts, have a sort of relationship, breaking the convention, interacting with each other, like a mind fractured in two, or like each other’s evil twin.
Sophie Stone and Deepa Shastri play brain expert Agnetha, whose professional swagger barely conceals anxiety and vulnerability. Both convey the contrasts very well.
It’s a play about damaged lives and what damages them. Lavery (and Hugo and Fox-Roberts) don’t give us a one-dimensional monster in the form of Ralph. Neither is the mother just a mouthpiece for moral indignation. Director Jeni Draper keeps us focussed throughout what is largely a succession of monologues interspersed with a few scenes in which the characters interact. Jo Paul’s set is minimalistic but versatile: one ingenious item of scenery serves as a table, a settee, a coffin and so on, allowing the action to move seamlessly from scene to scene.
An exploration of the darker side of human experience, Frozen is a gripping and absorbing piece of theatre, distressingly still relevant. I look forward to seeing fingersmiths tackle their next piece – something comedic perhaps. Please.
Leave a comment | tags: Birmingham, Bryony Lavery, Deepa Shastri, Frozen, Hazel Maycock, Jean St Clair, Jeni Draper, Jo Paul, Michael Hugo, Mike Hugo, Neil Fox-Roberts, review, Sophie Stone, The REP, theatre review | posted in Theatre Review
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 3rd December, 2013
Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of Dickens’s seasonal classic emphasises its own theatricality. A chorus of spirits in Victorian garb – grubby and dark, unlike the picturesque variety you find on Christmas cards – decide to influence the affairs of mortals (a bit like the gods in Clash of the Titans) and they focus their endeavours on one Ebenezer Scrooge, the epitome of anti-Christmas feeling and misanthropy. The spirits wheel on lampposts, doors and so on, calling for special effects to manipulate each scene. In a way, this allows director Tessa Walker to be rather inventive and, neatly and cleverly, to convey scene changes and depict the more fantastical elements of the tale.
The trouble is this approach robs the story of spookiness and surprise.
Standing in as Scrooge, Jo Servi does a nice line in wide-eyed double-takes, and pent-up aggression to anyone who bids him a merry Christmas. As the spirits show him the past and present, traces of old emotions leak out from his tight-lipped callousness – it’s not so much a change in the man as a rekindling of what is already there, what is in all of us to begin with: our common humanity. Scrooge’s reawakening is a release of suppressed emotion and Servi carries it off well enough with a sprightly song-and dance number.
Marc Akinfolarin’s Jacob Marley intones a stark warning in a beautiful bass voice and there is a lot of energy provided by Roddy Peters as the antithesis to Scrooge, the permanently cheerful nephew Fred.
Jason Carr’s score is very reminiscent of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, weaving in snatches of traditional carols in a rather discordant way. As Scrooge thaws, the numbers become more melodic and somewhat more memorable.
Ti Green’s set – all bricks and floorboards with a false proscenium arch upstage – echoes the theatricality of the approach and suggests the dingy London streets. I like the fact that it doesn’t change in line with Scrooge’s change of heart. It’s the people, now all colourful and happy, that decorate this environment with Christmas cheer.
The ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is an enormous rod puppet, a griffin spreading its tattered wings like a skeletal vulture. It’s a striking image but it’s a cumbersome process getting it on and off and it lacks the humanity of the previous spectral visitors. It’s like the carcass of a Christmas bird picked clean, a sign of austere times to come. It’s handled very expressively but, like the rest of the production, it’s a little too pedestrian to ignite the imagination or elicit an emotional response.
The openly artificial approach, efficient and clever though it may be, doesn’t give us a single “how did they do that?” moment to surprise us or fill us with wonder. Instead we get a workable, workday version of the well-known story, performed by a likeable and proficient company, but lacking in that special ingredient to touch us and warm our hearts.
1 Comment | tags: A Christmas Carol, Bryony Lavery, Charles Dickens, Jason Carr, Jo servi, Marc Akinfolarin, review, Roddy Peters, Tessa Walker, The REP Birmingham, theatre review, Ti Green | posted in Theatre Review
Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Tuesday 9th October, 2012
Bryony Lavery’s rather lyrical story of amateur boxing is brought to invigorating life by Frantic Assembly in this new production, doing the rounds (Doing the rounds! Hah! …suit yourselves). Loud music boxes your ears, bright lights assault your eyes, but what is most stunning is the slick, choreographed moves of this tight cast of six. These movements all stem from boxing and the exercises from training in preparation for boxing – the physical fitness of the actors is incredible; they bring a grace and an insistent intensity to the proceedings.
This is the story of shoplifter and car-borrower Cameron who is reformed by becoming a member of the amateur club run by Bobby Burgess (Keith Fleming as a sort of avuncular sergeant major). There, Cameron meets showboat Ajay The Cobra Chopra (Taqi Nazeer), walking Wikipedia Ainsley (Ali Craig), hothead Neil Neill (Matthew Trevannion) and hardnosed female boxer Dina (Margaret Ann Bain). Cameron ducks and weaves his way into the group and soon Burgess is selecting suitable candidates to turn pro.
This gives rise to concern in Cameron’s mother, in a excellent comic turn from Julie Wilson Nimmo. Her relief over her boy finally getting some structure and discipline in his life is replaced by justifiable fear that he will sustain some serious injury. The play’s title tells us tragedy is coming…
Cameron doesn’t quite make it from rags to riches. Stuart Ryan stands out as the young contender who tries to better himself. Not so much flawed as floored.
Technically, the show is dazzling. The music and lights are secondary to the performances of the actors. Directors Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett use freeze frames and thought tracking to eye-opening effect. Slow motion and a revolving stage add a Matrix-like air to the fight sequences – we are not meant to get caught up in the violence of the match; this is character-led drama and because of this handling, the ending leaves us all the more punch drunk.
A vibrant, slick and tight production. A knockout.
Leave a comment | tags: Ali Craig, Beautiful Burnout, Bryony Lavery, Frantic Assembly, Julie Wilson Nimmo, Keith Fleming, Margaret Ann Bain, Matthew Trevannion, review, Stuart Ryan, Taqi Nazeer, Warwick Arts Centre | posted in Theatre Review