Tag Archives: Christopher Luscombe

A ‘Night’ to Remember

TWELFTH NIGHT

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Monday 13th November, 2017

 

Director Christopher Luscombe sets his Illyria in the late Victorian era, with Orsino’s court designated as ‘the town’ and Olivia’s estate as ‘the country’.  Thus the action is divided along the same lines as The Importance of Being Earnest – the characters even travel between the two by train.  There is a distinctly Wildean feel to Duke Orsino’s court.  Orsino (Nicholas Bishop) surrounds himself with witty young men, among them Valentine (Tom Byrne) and a rather striking Curio (Luke Latchford) posing almost naked for a painting.  Later, we meet Antonio (an elegant and dignified Giles Taylor) who openly declares his love for Sebastian while sporting Oscar Wilde’s green carnation – he even gets arrested!

Washed up into this world of witty men is Viola, who is more than a match for them.  Disguising herself as a boy and becoming servant to Orsino, Viola, now Cesario, finds herself falling for the Duke and he for her – although he buys into the disguise.  There is a sliding scale to sexuality and Orsino seems skewed toward one end.

Dinita Gohil makes for a bright-eyed and plucky Viola – it is about her fate we care the most.  Kara Tointon’s elegant and haughty Olivia becomes more enjoyable as she begins to dote on Cesario.  Her protracted period of mourning for a dead brother is clearly to keep Orsino at bay, while Orsino woos by remote control, preferring the company of young men.

As Malvolio, Adrian Edmondson gets across the prudish servant’s pompous officiousness and also his hissing contempt for the others.  In his mad, yellow-stockinged scene, he’s more of a cheeky chappie from the music hall; I get the feeling there is more wildness beneath the surface than he lets out.  His best moments come at the end when Malvolio, a broken man, comes to realise how he has been played and by whom.

Vivien Parry is excellent as Maria, instigator of the practical joke against Malvolio, bringing a lot of fun and heart to proceedings, but John Hodgkinson’s Sir Toby Belch (who does more farting than belching) has little of the lovable rogue about him.  He’s a drunkard, a user and a bully – too much of a mean streak for me.  Similarly, Beruce Khan’s Feste is embittered with anger and cruelty, which could be argued to stem from his position, as entertainer to silly white people, but I find the vehemence of his revenge leaves a bitter aftertaste, after an otherwise enjoyable and engaging performance.

There are many high points.  The letter scene involves some hilarious comic business with the garden statuary; Michael Cochrane’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek is a posh, bewildered delight; Sarah Twomey’s Fabia is a lot of fun; and songs like ‘O Mistress Mine’ and ‘Come Away, Death’ are beautifully melancholic, even with added Indian beats and instrumentation.

Nigel Hess’s original compositions bring Victorian music hall flavours but at times the music is overpowering.  It’s a bit like when an Oscar winner speaks for too long and the orchestra strikes up to play them off.  Several scenes suffer from this intrusion.  Some of the humour seems heavy-handed: a pack of servants fleeing the mad Malvolio doesn’t quite work for me.

Overall, I like the style.  Simon Higlett’s design marries Victorian architecture (hothouses, railway stations) with an autumnal palette.  Mortality is ever-present in the piles of dead leaves.

While there is much to admire and enjoy about this lively production with its many fresh ideas, I’m afraid some of the cakes are a little stale and some of the ale is somewhat flat.

Twelfth Night production photos_ 2017_2017_Photo by Manuel Harlan _c_ RSC_234119 (1)

To the letter: Adrian Edmondson as Malvolio (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

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Not dreaming but being

THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 13th June, 2016

 

Richard O’Brien’s cult camp classic is doing the rounds again in this exuberant production.  I’ve been a devotee for decades and I’m sure I would have enjoyed the show on its own merits were it not for the actions of one of America’s inexhaustible supply of gun-toting shitheads.  On Saturday night an inexcusable cunt murdered innocent people in a Florida gay bar, just because they were there.  My thoughts have been coloured by this act of hate-filled cowardice ever since.  And so it was heartening to approach the theatre and see so many people in costume.  Men in drag – straight men, many of them – getting into the spirit of the show, wobbling on high heels, squeezed into unfamiliar basques, and sweating under polyester wigs.  I felt decidedly underdressed by comparison.

It struck me, more than ever, how the show is a celebration.  Uptight straight couple Brad and Janet are changed forever by their encounter with the flamboyant, predatory Frank N Furter.  Their eyes (and their legs) are opened to other possibilities.  And it got me thinking what would our culture be like if LGBT people did not contribute?  Dull, flat, white bread – it doesn’t bear thinking about.

As saccharin sweet Janet, Diana Vickers is wonderful, showing her character’s sexual awakening in her voice as much as her acting.  Richard Meek is a sturdy, stand-up Brad, testing the boundaries of his masculinity.

Fellow Dudley boy Norman Pace excels as the Narrator, managing the audience interjections assertively but always with a sense of fun, and it is an absolute pleasure to see the remarkable Kristian Lavercombe as Riff Raff again – a masterful butler, if you can have such a thing.  Kay Murphy’s Magenta is a glamorous vamp, while Sophie Linder-Lee’s Columbia is perky and brittle – her drug-induced freak-out is hilarious.  Good value is S-Club 7’s Paul Cattermole appearing in two roles, as experiment-gone-wrong Eddie and as Nazi-leaning, wheelchair-bound Dr Scott.  Liam Tamne gives a magnificent star turn as Frank N Furter, adding a touch of Southern drawl and a whole lot of glamour.  Tamne is at his heart-breaking best in the closing numbers, with some soulful torch-song singing.  But tonight, for me, scene and heart were stolen by Dominic Andersen as Rocky Horror himself.  A perfect physical specimen in leopard-print pants, Andersen can sing, move and act.  It was love at first sight.

Director Christopher Luscombe somehow keeps things fresh while giving us everything we expect.  Seasoned audience members know exactly what to shout out and when – you don’t heckle, you participate.  It’s more of a litany than a pantomime.

The show is tons of fun but I am always struck by the downbeat denouement.  But tonight, especially, when Frank is gunned down for going ‘too far’, it is extra powerful.  That he is shot by someone inhuman says it all.

The show concludes with one of the bleakest assessments of our sorry species I have ever heard.  And crawling on the planet’s face, some insects called the human race, lost in time and lost in space and meaning.

The show has never been more relevant and necessary.

And then, we’re all on our feet and dancing the time-warp; we’re clapping and cheering and enjoying the moment, because that’s how life should be lived.

rocky horror

Rocky relationship: Dominic Andersen marvels at Liam Tamne’s Frank-N-Furter

 


A Merry War

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING or LOVE’S LABOUR’S WON

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 29th October, 2014

I’m not convinced by the idea that Much Ado is a companion piece to Love’s Labour’s Lost (also currently playing in a top-notch production) – there is a difference in quality to the writing that suggests to me that LLL is a preliminary sketch for the masterpiece of romantic comedy that was to follow. That said, the pairing of these productions works superbly: Simon Higlett’s sumptuous Downton Abbey set (based on real-life stately home Charlecote Park) gets a second airing and the cast reappear, this time post-WWI, to delight us anew, their warmth and conviviality all the cosier in a bright, wintery setting.

In short: this is the most enjoyable production I have seen at the RSC for a long time. It is an unalloyed joy. Even when a technical hitch with the scenery stops the show for several minutes, it is treated with good humour and patience – the audience has so much love for the production by this point, I suspect a fire alarm would not have dinted our enjoyment.

Edward Bennett and Michelle Terry dazzle as Benedick and Beatrice who, though arguably the sub-plot, are the undeniable stars. Their delivery is spot on, spouting Shakespeare’s funniest barbs with the precision of a marksman. Anyone who tells you Shakespearean comedy is not funny has never seen Much Ado. Bennett has some ludicrous business with a curtain and a Christmas tree, while Terry is not above casting herself to the floor in mockery. But there is real heart to the couple.   They ‘speak poignards’ and sometimes the words stab at your heart. It’s laugh-out-loud stuff that also makes you misty-eyed and warmed of cockle, and a firework display of wit and wordplay by William Shakespeare.

They are supported by an excellent company. John Hodgkinson’s affable Don Pedro has an easy gravitas and gregarious nature, while his brother Don John (whose soubriquet ‘The Bastard’ has been excised from the text) is a pent-up mass of resentment, a powder keg of malevolence, chillingly portrayed by Sam Alexander. David Horovitch is a strong Leonato, cut to the quick by false allegations, and Thomas Wheatley rises to the moment as his brother Antonio, driven to speak out against ‘fashion-monging boys’. Flora Spencer-Longhurst is romantic heroine Hero, bringing credibility to the difficult thwarted-wedding scene, when Hero is mainly silent in the face of vile accusations. Frances McNamee lends a touch of Mrs Doyle (ah, go on, go on, go on) to Ursula the maid and I warmed to Chris Nayak’s Brummie Borachio. Tunji Kasim impresses as the young Count Claudio, led astray by the villain’s lies. Nick Haverson’s Dogberry is full of tics to go along with his malapropisms but I do think director Christopher Luscombe took a wrong turn by setting the examination scene in an overcrowded kitchen: the script is funny enough without complicated comic business, although the scene did stop the show – literally!

Nigel Hess’s marvellous music is the icing on this Christmas cake, played live by an unseen band under the direction of John Woolf. It’s all in keeping with the music of the period – unlike some other productions where an anachronistic soundtrack serves only to alienate.

Much Ado is one of my favourite plays and so I approach every new production with trepidation – I don’t want to see it ruined. With this production it is apparent in seconds flat that we are in not only safe but expert hands, and I can sit back and wallow in the play’s brilliance, presented here in such an agreeable and sublimely entertaining fashion.

LLM-195


Lovely and Unlaboured

LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST

RST, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 22nd October, 2014

Simon Higlett’s gorgeous set has more than a touch of Downton Abbey about it – in fact this production is like watching the TV show but with proper drama. Shakespeare’s early rom-com is given an Edwardian treatment by director Christopher Luscombe, who does not stint on neither the rom nor the com. The comic business complements the script – unlike some productions where funny ideas are imposed on scenes – and the result is an absolute joy of a show.

Sam Alexander is the King of Navarre, recruiting his mates into a pact involving three years of abstinence and celibacy. Of course, any rules spelled out in a story are bound to be broken – remember Gremlins? – and so the comedy of the first half unfolds, with each member of the brotherhood breaking the rules and being discovered. Alexander is the cuddly Hugh Bonneville of the group and is more than ably supported by William Belchambers as Longaville, Tunji Kasim as Dumaine and Edward Bennett as proto-Benedick Berowne.   The eavesdropping scene is played out on the rooftop and is superbly handled by this quartet.

Most of the rom comes from Nigel Hess’s sumptuous score and some beautiful singing by Peter McGovern as the boy Moth.

More com comes from Chris McCalphy as dull constable Dull and a highly strung Costard (Nick Haverson). John Hodgkinson is very enjoyable as he mangles English pronunciation as the Spaniard Don Armado – I wonder why he has an accent but other visitors, like the French contingent, do not… That said, Jamie Newall’s rich and fruity tones as Boyet, equerry to the French princess, are a treat to the ear.

Leah Whittaker is striking as the fun-loving Princess of France – everyone looks wonderful in the period costumes – and Michelle Terry is likeable as proto-Beatrice Rosaline.

There is plenty of mucking around attired as Muscovites and the presentation of The Nine Worthies is just lovely.

But, just as the outbreak of the First World War interrupted lives and altered things forever, the arrival of bad news from France puts a spanner in the workings of the plot. We do not get the happy ending we expect – in a masterstroke, Shakespeare detonates a surprise and nothing is the same again. Christopher Luscombe handles it superbly. The final image, of the quartet of friends in uniform, marching away, is a salutary reminder of what we are commemorating this year.

Highly recommended.

Edward Bennett and Sam Alexander, with William Belchamber looking on.

Edward Bennett and Sam Alexander, with William Belchambers looking on.


Fine and Dandy

DANDY DICK
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 21st August, 2012


Arthur Wing Pinero’s classic comedy from 1887 is given a new lease of life by director Christopher Luscombe in this revival soon to transfer to London’s West End.

The old theatrical conventions of speaking asides to the audience and punctuating scenes with tableaux here seem incredibly refreshing. This is a production that celebrates artifice and contrivance within its plot and in its performance. The actors play it larger-than-life in order to accommodate these conventions but there is no hint of spoof and no knowing winks. As far as they can, they play the material straight, albeit in a heightened and exaggerated manner.

It is a breath of fresh air.

Comedy traditionally has two types of character: those who seek to enjoy life’s pleasures and those who seek to thwart them. And so we have The Very Reverend Augustin Jedd (Nicholas Le Prevost) ruling the roost in his deanery, anti-gambling and anti-extravagance. Unfortunately for this old stick-in-the-mud, his two daughters are spendthrifts and pleasure-seekers. Together with their army beaux, they plot to sneak out after dark to a fancy dress ball. Meanwhile, Jedd’s widowed sister descends on the house. She is far from the withered fragment they are expecting. Instead she is rather mannish and full of fun – Patricia Hodge in a scene-stealing performance. Such fun! She speaks in horse metaphors and racing slang. In fact, Pinero’s script has much to delight in its use of language. The plot may be earthier than anything Wilde ever concocted but the élan and esprit of the dialogue is definitely from the same stable.

A pub fire and a bout of horse doping leads to the incarceration of the hapless Dean – adhering to the tradition that the killjoy and fuddy-duddy must be made to suffer and look ridiculous – but somehow everything comes good before the final curtain. Nicholas Le Prevost is an imperious yet likeable old duffer as the Dean; Patricia Hodge is note perfect as the horsey Georgiana. The entire ensemble is delectable. Daughters Salome (Florence Andrews) and Sheba (Jennifer Rhodes) witter and sing and comport themselves in a hilariously melodramatic fashion. Their boyfriends and co-conspirators are dashing (Peter Sandys-Clarke) and talented (Charles De Bromhead, treating us to some exquisite violin playing). John Arthur as Blore the butler is a delight to behold, pipped at the post for my pick of the running by Rachel Lumberg in an excruciatingly funny portrayal of Hannah, the constable’s wife.

The attention to detail is meticulous. There is no reaction, no bit of business that has been overlooked, and yet the piece ticks along merrily and never feels laboured or overwrought. It is like discovering a recipe for soufflé in an ancient cookbook – one that takes a particular skill to pull off successfully, proving, lest we forget, that sometimes the old ways are still the best.