Tag Archives: Colin Richmond

Rome About

VICE VERSA

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 14th June, 2017

 

Phil Porter’s new play ‘borrows’ heavily (to put it mildly!) from the works of Roman comic genius Plautus – Porter is by no means the first to do so; everyone from Shakespeare to Frankie Howerd has been influenced by Plautus’s outlandish plots and larger-than-life character types.

Colin Richmond’s set is a painted representation of two Roman houses – the artificiality is undisguised, as a prompt to tell us we are not in the real world.  In this world, characters are broadly drawn, driven by particular foibles and appetites.  First among them is General Braggadocio (Felix Hayes), a swaggering braggart, a vain, posturing despot – clearly ripe for duping.  Hayes chews his lines with bombast and relish in a massively enjoyable performance.  He quotes and paraphrases Donald Trump – which should tell you all you need to know about what kind of dreadful, narcissistic idiot he is.

Running rings around him is Dexter, the cunning, conniving slave.  This is the Frankie Howerd role, played here by Sophia Nomvete, a hugely likable presence full of charm and warmth.  Her schemes are ludicrous but we take delight in watching them work out, as Dexter copes with each new obstacle that is thrown in her path.

Aiding and abetting (but mostly hampering and hindering) are fellow slaves, Feclus (a hilarious and tightly wound Steven Kynman) whose desperation and frustration are a lot of fun, and  Omnivorous (Byron Mondahl) who, as his name gives away, eats a lot but is at his comic best when he is pissed off his face.

Geoffrey Lumb’s handsome but dim young lover, Valentin, is a wide-eyed twit, while his other half, the general’s concubine Voluptua gives the performance of the night.  Ellie Beaven is the cream of this very rich crop of comedic talent, flitting between characterisations with impeccable timing and nuance – and it’s not the kind of show where you expect much nuance!

There is superb support from Nicholas Day as game old codger Philoproximus and a star turn from Allo Allo’s Kim Hartman as raddled old prostitute, Climax, hurling herself into Dexter’s schemes with energy and style.  Jon Trenchard reinforces the silliness of the whole enterprise, scampering around as Braggadocio’s monkey Terence (named for the other famous Roman playwright, I’ll wager).

Director Janice Honeyman doesn’t miss a trick to keep the laughs coming thick and fast, and much fun is had with some well-placed anachronisms.  Roman comedy gives us the opportunity to mock those who would oppress us, while championing the little guy and revelling in the indomitable human qualities of ingenuity and wit.  It’s not the plots we come for but the playing.  And this production delivers some exquisitely funny playing indeed.

Vice Versa

Up Stratford! Felix Hayes and Sophia Nomvete (Photo: Pete Le May)


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)


PC Pan

WENDY & PETER PAN

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 15th January 2014

Ella Hickson has adapted J M Barrie’s classic tale for this family-oriented fare – giving us a straight play rather than yet another pantomime version.  Giving Wendy first billing in the title sets the tone: this is an updated version in terms of content if not setting.  There are no mermaids, no what would have been called ‘Red Indians’ – instead we get Tiger Lily as an urban Amazon warrior… Wendy (an earnest Fiona Button) serious and bossy even when she’s supposed to be having fun, asserts herself, learning to go beyond the expectations of her gender imposed on her by a patriarchal society.  Well, good for her.  It just seems a little laboured at times.

Where this production works best is when J M Barrie’s hand is still detectable.  The plot structure is unaltered, although there is the addition of a fourth Darling child whose demise in the early moments of the play is excellently handled and very moving.  Kudos to actor Colin Ryan who establishes a likeable character in a few deft strokes.  The story becomes Wendy’s quest to get her lost boy brother back, blaming herself for his illness – she neglected to sew a button on his pyjamas.

Where it falls short and breaks its own magic spell is with the dialogue which lurches from passable Edwardian English to contemporary slang.  Mrs Darling telling her husband to ‘bog off’ just ain’t right, however empowered and suffragette-y she might have become.

Peter Pan himself (Sam Swann) looks the part and moves with grace and energy, lifted and held aloft by a chorus of his ‘shadows’, a troupe of ghostly pallbearers.  Of course at times ropes and wires are involved but the workings of his flight are never hidden from us.  It’s about make-believe and imagination after all.  Some of his lines make you cringe.  I understand the updated dialogue might engage a young audience but it robs the play of some of its ‘otherness’ and magical qualities.

Charlotte Mills’s Tinkerbell is a big surprise, sounding like Kathy Burke with none of the finesse.  It is easy to imagine her propping up the bar at the Queen Vic, her tiny wings part of a raucous hen night uniform.

The crocodile is also a surprise – and a disappointing one.  Arthur Kyeyune is a skilled physical performer but his ‘crocodile’ is no more than a man in a top hat and long coat, creeping and stalking around, holding a clock.  Imagine Baron Samedi meeting Flava Flav.  As a symbol of Hook’s impending mortality he is rather disturbing (he is also the doctor who attends the dying Darling) but how can they not show us a crocodile?  Given the beauty and invention of the rest of Colin Richmond’s design work for this production, this is very unsatisfying.  On the other hand, Hook’s pirate ship is wonderfully impressive, a storybook galleon with a giant skull and skeleton hands as figurehead, gliding and revolving across the stage.

Hook (an enjoyable Guy Henry) is less aristocratic than he is usually portrayed.  There are hints at the tragedy of the human condition here as he despises and envies the lost boys their youth.  But without a proper crocodile, his demise is a letdown.  His interactions with Gregory Gudgeon’s Smee lighten the mood and break the fourth wall more effectively than Pan’s appeal for applause to resurrect his fairy friend.

Visually engaging, occasionally touching, Wendy & Peter Pan takes itself a little too seriously at times, too heavy-footed to really get off the ground.

Hook (Guy Henry) and Smee (Gregory Gudgeon) set sail.  Photo: Manuel Harlan.

Hook (Guy Henry) and Smee (Gregory Gudgeon) set sail. Photo: Manuel Harlan.