Tag Archives: Colin Ryan

Midsummer Murder

SNOW IN MIDSUMMER

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 9th March, 2017

 

Based on a thirteenth century Chinese drama, this new production brings the story of The Injustice to Dou E that Moved Heaven and Earth (no, me neither) bang up to date with a fresh and lively script by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig.  Set in contemporary China with its curious blend of progressive and traditional elements, where a burgeoning capitalist economy vies with pre-Cultural Revolution superstition, the story is a visceral revenge tragedy with supernatural elements that feels at home at the RSC.

Sweet and charming Dou Yi (Katie Leung) returns from the grave as a vengeful spirit seeking justice.  It emerges that she was framed for murder and executed by firing squad, her body harvested for organs for transplant operations.  Dou Yi seeks retribution and to be laid to rest. Stalking around in a white, long-sleeved gown, Leung cuts a spooky dash, familiar to us from Asian horror films.  As the mystery unfolds, we are gripped by the action, not least because of the ghost’s relationship with young Fei-Fei (a remarkable Sophie Wong) in some chilling scenes.

At the centre of the plot is handsome Colin Ryan as Handsome Zhang, a young entrepreneur, and his handsome boyfriend, handsome Rocket (Andrew Leung).  This is the face of a new China but the machinations of the story are rooted in tradition and cultural convention.  Andrew Leung is an appealing figure – the recipient of a heart transplant from guess who – but it is Ryan who knocks our socks off, as his life unravels and he takes drastic, final action.

Also excellent is Sarah Lam as Handsome’s former wet nurse, beginning as an amusing character part to a heart-rending (I use the word carefully) participant in the unfolding tragedy.  Wendy Kweh cuts an elegant figure as businesswoman Tianyun – there is a message here that the cost of a growing economy is paid by the environment – and much of the humour of the piece stems from the likes of Jonathan Raggett as a sexually frustrated Officer.

Director Justin Audibert blends the contemporary with the traditional in a melting pot of styles, juxtaposing naturalistic playing with more melodramatic posturing.  Anna Watson’s lighting uses modern strip-lighting to great effect.  A couple of supernatural escorts in animal masks who take the dead to the afterlife epitomise this fusion of the old and the new.  Atmospheric music by Ruth Chan is performed live by a tight ensemble – pulsating modern rhythms, traditional Chinese instruments, underscore the action and help to create both the world on the stage and the moods of the scenes.

Engaging from the off, gripping and powerful, this is splendid entertainment and a refreshing glimpse at China’s changing culture.   Dou Yi’s story tells us the truth will out, consequences must be answered and this is a compelling metaphor for our treatment of the planet.  Mother Nature’s vengeance will be no less savage and complete.   Even the show’s title is an indictment of climate change!

Snow in Midsummer production photos_ 2017_2017_Photo by Ikin Yum _c_ RSC_212790

Heart on her sleeve: Katie Leung as Dou Yi (Photo: Ikin Yum)

 

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Urbane Fox

VOLPONE

The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 22nd July, 2015

 

Trevor Nunn’s new production of Ben Jonson’s 1606 comedy is contemporary in setting and feel.  It is our world of smart phones and tablets, of ECG machines and CCTV.  The text too has been tweaked to include present-day references to the Grecian economy, for example, bringing the satire up-to-date.  The point is to remind us that human nature has not changed.  The flaws and foibles Jonson satirises remain all too current.

Volpone is a con artist, fleecing avaricious types who seek to inherit his fortune.  You can almost see the pound signs in their eyes as they flock to what they think is his death bed.  In the title role, Henry Goodman is magnificent, smooth and slick; his Volpone has an innate sense of fun.  He is a conman we can admire – part of the enduring appeal of stories about confidence tricksters is our enjoyment of the cleverness of the scam, being in on it with the tacit acknowledgment that we, the audience, would never be duped… And, of course, the victims deserve what they get; they are terrible people.

The excellent Matthew Kelly is Corvino, a jealous, abusive tyrant of a husband, who turns out to be willing to whore out his wife if it means he will be named Volpone’s heir.  Geoffrey Freshwater is in good form as the doddering Corbaccio, willing to disinherit his own son in order to secure Volpone’s riches.  We enjoy seeing these men stitched up, due to Goodman’s splendidly timed asides and hilarious fakery.  A baldie wig and no small amount of drooling work wonders.  True, Volpone too is motivated by avarice but his victims are taking advantage of what they presume is a feeble invalid at death’s door.  Where Volpone oversteps the bounds of what is acceptable is when he attempts to force himself on Corvino’s comely Mrs, Celia (Rhiannon Handy).  This is why Volpone has to be punished at the end.

Goodman is a thoroughly charming silver fox and each disguise he assumes is audaciously funny, for example the Italian mountebank who mangles the English language into something that sounds ruder than it is.  Volpone is aided and abetted by his able sidekick, Mosca (the elegantly expressive Orion Lee) – a bit like Clouseau’s Cato but without the impromptu karate attacks.

Annette McLaughlin is funny as the grotesque Lady Politic Would-Be, here portrayed as a self-obsessed reality TV diva, complete with cameraman in tow.  The ever-appealing Colin Ryan makes Peregrine a likeable American backpacker, and Andy Apollo makes Bonario a dashing heroic figure.  The peculiar trio of a dwarf, a eunuch and a hermaphrodite (Jon Key, Julian Hoult, and Ankur Bahl, respectively) add a bizarre touch of colour to proceedings.  Every home should have such a trio.

The action shifts along at quite a lick – you barely notice the running time – and the show belongs to Henry Goodman, in the most entertaining performance of the RSC’s current season.  Jonson turns moralist at the end as the judges mete out punishments left, right and centre.  We are admonished to look to our own conduct.  It is one thing to enjoy the vices of others, vicariously at the theatre, but quite another to indulge in those vices in our real lives.

Orion Lee helping Henry Goodman look his worst.  (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Orion Lee helping Henry Goodman look his worst. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)


Passion Play

LOVE’S SACRIFICE

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Monday 27th April, 2015

 

There’s often a reason why a play isn’t performed for centuries: it’s not very good or its day has come and gone and there is nothing of relevance to it. With this in mind, I settle into my seat at the RSC’s Swan and try to keep an open mind.

John Ford (you know, him – he wrote Tis Pity She’s A Whore) gives us a tragedy, the likes of which opera has been thriving on for yonks. Two best friends, one woman, loved by both but married by one… It can only end badly.

Matthew Needham is excellent as The Duke, whose emotions are never far from the surface. He is an exuberant hedonist, when things are going his way, but there is the suggestion he could become unhinged at any moment – we see flashes of his violent temper. His bride Bianca (Catrin Stewart) is perky and lively, and obeys her husband’s instructions to treat his bff Fernando (Jamie Thomas King) like a second husband, in all ways except one, of course! Bianca and Fernando get the hots for each other but never consummate their passion, despite a few stolen moments – enough to get the villain of the piece plotting and scheming. Stewart and King go through the anguishes of love without the pleasure, matching Needham’s emotional outpourings in intensity. As the villain D’Avolos, Jonathan McGuinness is a snide and unctuous presence, Iago with an admin job – and it almost looks like he will get away with it.

There is a couple of subplots, one of which ends horribly. Arrogant womaniser Ferentes (Andy Apollo making an impression) gets his comeuppance in a masque, when three of his conquests decide to have a stab at vengeance. Superannuated fop Mauriccio (an exquisite Matthew Kelly) has a happier ending – if banishment and marriage are anything to go by – and his relationship with Brummie servant Giacopo (Colin Ryan) is both funny and touching. Kelly and Ryan are a little and large double act with perfect comic timing – I find I am more moved by the resolution to their story than I am to the main plot.

Beth Cordingly is strong as strident widow Fiormonda, and Marcus Griffiths’s Roseilli, banished but comes back disguised as a simpleton, cuts a dash, but is too removed from the main action – This is a fault of the writer.

On the whole, it’s a watchable, rewarding piece with passions running as high as the production values and well worth sacrificing an evening to see. Anna Fleischle’s design conveys the period beautifully, but the projections on the back wall add little beyond mood lighting – I am too busy watching the actors to take much notice of these effects. There is, for my taste, a little too much of the discordant music. Director Matthew Dunster interrupts the action with interludes of dumb show – I could do without these. He also adds many humorous touches, heightening the comedy to match the intensity of the drama.

Many of the plot points can be traced to Shakespeare but I come away thinking about the great Spanish dramatist Lope de Vega, a playwright The Swan would do well to feature – in translation, of course!

Tonight Matthew, I'm going to be... (Colin Ryan and Matthew Kelly.  Photo: Helen Maybanks)

Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be…
(Colin Ryan and Matthew Kelly. Photo: Helen Maybanks)


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.