Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Monday 18th June, 2018
Noel Coward’s 1924 play is perhaps best described as a ‘comedy of bad manners’. Set in the country retreat of the Bliss family, it depicts what transpires one weekend when each member of the family decides to invite a guest to stay. In terms of plot, that’s about it – the play lacks the depth and development of Coward’s later works, but the beastly behaviour of the Blisses provides such fun, we don’t seem to care about the script’s narrative shortcomings.
Ruling the roost as former actress Judith Bliss is Lesley Wilcox, serving up the ham in hefty slabs – but all without breaking character. Judith has quit the stage but has never stopped acting; she spends her days in the throes of melodramatic hyperbole. Wilcox is a monstrous joy to behold.
Following in their mother’s footsteps are waspish daughter Sorel (Zoe Mortimer in fine form) and dapper son Simon, played by Josh Whitehouse-Gardner, who is perfectly cast. Of all the company, it is he who gives the best clipped, Cowardian delivery. As the father, David Bliss, Roger Harding warms into the role and is soon hurling himself into histrionics along with the rest of his brood.
The hapless guests include Vivien Tomlinson, good fun as a kind of prototype ‘cougar’ figure, Myra Arundel; Paul Tomlinson as Richard, delivering a nice line in awkwardness; Thomas Hodge flounders around agreeably as nice-but-dim Sandy; while India Willes’s Jackie is a study in social anxiety and shyness.
Judith’s thunder is almost stolen by her maid of all work, Clara, played by Shirley Allwork, in a hilarious piece of character work in perfect contrast with all the posh nobs she has to serve.
Director Colin Lewis Edwards gets the pacing of the rows and arguments spot on, and the funniest scene comes when our hosts attempt to entertain their motley guests with an abortive parlour game.
Special mention must go to Bel Derrington and Graham Robson for their elegantly detailed and substantial set, contained within the confines of the Bear Pit’s intimate performance space.
Coward is a worthy successor to Oscar Wilde and a forerunner of Edward Albee, and this high quality, classy production delivers the goods. What does the play have to say to us today, 90-odd years since it first appeared? Perhaps it’s that the ‘elite’ are still riding roughshod over the rest of us, callous and careless in their conceited conduct. Or perhaps it’s just that impoliteness and rudeness remain terribly funny – as long as someone else is on the receiving end.
Lesley Wilcox as Judith Bliss (Photo: Sam Allard)
Leave a comment | tags: Bear Pit Theatre, Bel Derrington, Colin Lewis Edwards, Graham Robson, Hay Fever, India Willes, Josh Whiteman-Gardner, Lesley Wilcox, Noel Coward, Paul Tomlinson, review, Roger Harding, Shirley Allwork, Stratford upon Avon, Thomas Hodge, Vivien Tomlinson, Zoe Mortimer | posted in Review, Theatre Review
GOD OF CARNAGE
Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Friday 6th May, 2016
One young boy has knocked out a couple of teeth of another boy. Their parents meet to discuss what is to be done. It all begins in civilised fashion: they are agreeing the wording of a definitive statement of events. Soon, however, as blame is hurled from one side to the other, the thin veneer of civilisation begins to crack and peel away.
Yasmina Reza’s black comedy of manners, played here in a sharp translation by Christopher Hampton, makes acute observations about the human condition – the middle-class human, that is. One of the fathers, Michael, has tipped the family hamster out onto the road. It’s not a wild animal or a domesticated animal, he observes. This incident is a metaphor for the entire piece. Out of their cages of etiquette and civility, the characters flounder. They turn on each other but their attacks are as effectual as an assault by hamster – I imagine; I’ve never crossed one’s path. There is always something enjoyable about seeing people behaving badly, in ways we would never dare to in our real lives.
As Michael, Roger Ganner brings Black Country bathos, forever undermining the pretensions of his wife Veronica (Penny Sandle-Keynes) whose African masks and artefacts adorn the set – clues to the primitive tribalism we are about to witness. This powwow of chieftains is not going to be fruitful. Tony Homer’s Alan, apparently surgically welded to his mobile phone, emits waves of cynicism effortlessly, while his brittle wife Annette (Ruth Linnett) does a marvellous turn in falling ill and getting pissed. In short, this quartet delivers an excellent performance of well-defined characters, whose excesses are within keeping of their established tropes, and the contrasting moments of action are adeptly orchestrated by director Colin Lewis Edwards, staging a mini-Lord of the Flies meltdown in Bel Derrington’s detailed but not cluttered set.
We only care about ourselves, opines Alan – between phone calls. Reza holds up this attitude to ridicule. If we only care about ourselves, we are no better than selfish, squabbling children. Like the unfortunate hamster, we need our cages for our own protection, whether those cages are good manners, convention, or indeed technology like Alan’s ever-ringing mobile.
A bleak view of society but a darkly entertaining and thought-provoking piece of theatre, tightly played by an excellent cast. I enjoyed every wince-inducing minute.
Leave a comment | tags: Bear Pit Theatre, Bel Derrington, Christopher Hampton, Colin Lewis Edwards, God of Carnage, Penny Sandle-Keynes, review, Roger Ganner, Ruth Linnet, Stratford upon Avon, Tony Homer, Yasmina Reza | posted in Theatre Review