Tag Archives: Christopher Price

The Madness of War

CATCH 22

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 20th May, 2014

 

Joseph Heller’s story has appeared as a novel and as a film. This stage adaptation encapsulates the feel of both of those while at the same time being an effective piece of theatre in its own right. We follow the experiences of Yossarian, an everyman caught up both in a war and the bonkers bureaucracy of the men in charge. Philip Arditti plays it sardonically for the most part, until the absurdity of the situation pushes Yossarian to the limit. Arditti is the lone sane voice in this mad world and when he tries, literally, to divest himself of the craziness around him, as a human being laid bare, the rules and regulations of this crazy society won’t let him be.

Jon Bausor’s corrugated iron set is dominated by a bisected aeroplane in and around which the action takes place. Scott Twynholm’s sound design helps to keep us on edge. We flit from office to brothel to war zone and the actors elide from character to character by swapping hats or spectacles. The transitions are slick; scenes blend and jar, as though we are in Yossarian’s consciousness. Director Rachel Chavkin lays the craziness bare, keeping the action focussed and not overburdened with gimmicks and ‘cleverness’. An example of what works really well is when soldiers start dancing in place, symbolising their adherence to rules of behaviour, their subjugation to someone else’s tune.

Supporting the excellent Arditti is a strong ensemble, each member of which doubles up on roles. Very funny is David Webber’s Major Major who would rather defenestrate himself than receive visitors in his office; Michael Hodgson’s Colonel Cathcart is a jobsworth on a monstrous scale; Christopher Price’s Milo Minderbinder is the capitalist on the make, exploiting the war for personal profit. Heller’s work is remarkably relevant outside of the context of war!

The absurdity of bureaucracy and the horrors of war intermingle to create a very funny, sometimes shocking, always engaging night at the theatre. It perhaps makes all its points well before the running time elapses but you don’t really mind numbness in the bum when your mind is both tickled and dismayed by Northern Stage’s high quality production.

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Philip Arditti (Photo: Topher McGrillis)

 

 

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Homeward Bound

Mike Kenny’s new version of The Odyssey condenses 20 years of travel and adventure into two hours of stage time.  The first act, which deals with Odysseus’s journey, certainly benefits from a fast pace, giving us the key episodes of the epic voyage in brief scenes.  A chorus of gods is our narrators while the man himself lies spark out centre stage.  As the action gets under way, Odysseus becomes his own storyteller, narrating a story within a story – but don’t worry: it’s all very accessible and easy to follow.

It’s action-packed and fast-moving with some stirring acapella  singing from soloists and the entire company.  Composer and sound designer Ivan Stott should be commended for his excellent contributions.  He also appears as a range of characters, including Eumaeus the swineherd.

Director Sarah Brigham hardly lets the cast keep still for a second; the action is fluid and the staging is rich with invention and ideas, making the most of the present-day army aesthetic.  But for me, the tone is slightly off.  Some of the narration and heightened dialogue is a little too earnest and po-faced.  The piece could do with lightening up – that is not to say it is humourless because it has its funny moments; I just think the bias is the wrong way round.  They need to have more fun with it so that moments of anguish and suffering are all the more striking by contrast.

Christopher Price is a darkly funny Cyclops, stalking around on stilts, half-man, half-Dalek.  Wole Sawyerr is a weary Odysseus, conveying most of the hero’s exhaustion through body language, summoning up yet another idea to save their skins and finding the energy to command his crew.  He seems to come alive in the second act when the plot slows down to focus on events upon his much-delayed return to his home on Ithaca.  Here is human drama – as opposed to the derring-do with gods and monsters in the first act – and the cast is able to invest more emotion in the playing of these scenes.

Emma Beattie is a hard-nosed Penelope, standing her ground against an infestation of suitors and guarding her emotions until she is finally sure her long-lost husband has returned.  Similarly effective is Rich Dolphin as Odysseus’s troubled teenage son Telemachus, convincing us with his entire demeanour that he is younger than he really is, without descending into caricature.  Adam Horvath gets the arrogance and cruelty of would-be husband Antinous just right, and I also enjoyed Ella Vale’s haughty Circe as well as Anna Westlake’s loyal servant Eurekleia.

The fights (directed by Ian Stapleton) and other acts of violence are handled extremely well – I just wish the production didn’t take itself quite so seriously in the first half.  There is more than enough energy and creativity at work here to allow for a lighter touch that would sharpen the contrast with the heavier moments.

Technically and theatrically impressive, this Odyssey is enjoyable but doesn’t really hit home until its hero does.

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Promotional image for the production


Big Babies

BLUE REMEMBERED HILLS

Derby Theatre, Tuesday 25th June, 2013

I have nostalgic memories about Dennis Potter’s play, which was originally written for television.  The piece itself, since adapted for the stage, is riddled with nostalgia as a cast of adult actors run around, representing a group of children during the Second World War.   The theatrical device of having grown-ups play children later surfaced in Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers but I think Potter did it first.

There are similarities with Lord of the Flies in that there are no adult characters and we see the children interacting on their own terms: their negotiating of relationships and status within the pecking order, their adherence to perceived rules, their sudden cruelties, and their imaginative play.   This is childhood back in the days when children actually went out to play, before they started being ferried everywhere by their parents, before paranoia about paedophiles and so on clouded everyone’s judgment, before the internet isolated everyone at home… I’m not so old I can remember the War but I do remember being allowed out.

Christopher Price is Peter, a bit of a bully and admired by all.  He embodies the physicality of the boy perfectly as well as the psychological processes.  David Nellist’s Willie is more sensitive – when he’s not running around pretending to be an aeroplane.  Joanna Holden’s Audrey has a lust for violence, urging her friend to give the doll a smack to shut it up.  She is a resilient girl, epitomising the shifting loyalties and the power struggles within this societal group. Her friend Angela (Tilly Gaunt) is prettier and more ‘girly’ – the pair form an effective double act. Phil Cheadle’s John challenges Peter’s status and a fight breaks out, a proper childish scuffle, rough and tumble of a skirmish – the boys reach detente soon afterwards.  James Bolt’s Raymond is a stammerer and therefore a target for mockery but it is Adrian Grove’s Donald who is the outsider.  A lonely boy, pining for his missing-in-action father, Donald has a penchant for arson, which leads to tragedy.

The children realise they have to make-believe they had nothing to do with Donald’s demise.  They have to use their play-acting to keep them out of serious trouble.  This is the moment when innocence is lost and adulthood beckons.  Childhood is not sweeties and games, Potter tells us, but rather the training ground for the harshness and deceits that will inevitably come our way.

Ruari Murchison’s set is simple and effective.  A curving slope evokes landscape and a tall stepladder represents the barn.  Coupled with Colin Grenfell’s lighting, the set transports us to locations in an impressionistic way but it is the excellent cast that truly make this production outstanding.  Director Psyche Stott has prepared them superbly well and delivers all the shifts in mood and tone seamlessly.  The energy of childhood and the tensions of their relationships bounce off the stage.  I came away feeling wistful for my own childhood although perhaps it could be said I remain an adult-sized person who behaves like a child.

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