Tag Archives: Chris Gascoyne

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 In the opening scenes, she browbeats her shy and withdrawn daughter in what is tantamount to an extended monologue.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)

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On the Up

JACK AND THE BEANSTALK

Hippodrome, Birmingham, Monday 22nd December, 2014

 

You can rely on the Hippodrome pantomime for spectacle – that’s a given – but what this year’s festive production has that some of the more recent offerings have lacked is a strong storyline, the tree on which to hang the glittering baubles.   This year we are firmly back in trad panto territory as opposed to the variety-show-in-fairytale-clothing of last year’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or, before that, Robinson Crusoe and the Caribbean Pirates.

It’s not just the plot that is familiar and I have to remember that for many members of the audience it is the first time they are encountering these well-worn, tried and tested routines. Much is repeated from last year – with a couple of prominent cast members playing a return engagement, this is to be expected, but know what? Even the oldest, corniest moments still have the power to charm when executed by skilled hands such as these.  The humour is puerile and lavatorial: bum, poo, fart, willy… I laughed a lot.

The irrepressible Matt Slack (imagine a bald Brian Conley) is back as the titular Jack’s silly-billy brother. Slack is a natural for pantomime and a sublime physical comedian. Jack also has another, perhaps unnecessary brother, Simple Simon – ventriloquist Paul Zerdin, also back for a second year. Not so much a double act as an alternating pair of entertainers, these two provide much of the comic thrust of the evening. Zerdin performs the “Who’s in the first house?” routine superbly – by himself!

Also back is Gary Wilmot, a consummate panto dame. Wilmot doesn’t exaggerate or caricature, making his Dame Trot a likeable, cheeky character rather than a grotesque.

Duncan James proves a good sport as our dashing hero Jack, finally succumbing to our exhortations to take his shirt off. He and Princess Apricot (a sweet Robyn Mellor) belt out a bit of an aimless ballad together – their voices deserve better. Not that it matters: their number is sabotaged by Matt Slack doing something remarkable with a large red balloon.

In fact, probably the only criticism I’d level is where some of the song choices are concerned. Evil Fleshcreep opens the second act with an instantly forgettable song – Chris Gascoyne (Peter Barlow off of Corrie) is clearly enjoying himself as the Giant’s henchman but there must be better songs out there.

Enchantress Jane McDonald gives a rousing rendition of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough as Jack scales the beanstalk – it suits her vocal stylings better than the pompous stuff she is given earlier on. With her Northern camp, she fits in with the comedians – it’s still early in the show’s long run (“We’re here until Easter,” jokes Slack) so the comic timing is a little loose in parts. I expect this will tighten up with every performance.

There is plenty to enjoy. A prolonged 3D sequence is scary, in a funfair kind of way, and the Giant appears in an animated version and ‘live’ on stage. A pantomime cow does a moonwalk.  The obligatory 12 Days of Christmas routine is cleverly undermined in a kind of Play That Goes Wrong way and, almost literally, brings the house down.   Again I have to bear in mind that normal people don’t go to see several pantomimes in the same season, as we clap along to yet another rendition of Pharrell Williams’s Happy

It’s great to see the Hippodrome panto back on track, letting the form and not the stars shape the content.

jackand the beanstalk