Tag Archives: Colin Simmonds

Constant – in parts

THE CONSTANT WIFE

The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 6th October, 2013

 

Somerset Maugham’s 1926 comedy is brought to sparkling life in Jaz Davison’s lively production.  It tells the story of Constance, the titular wife, whose husband has been having a long-standing affair with one of her best friends.  Everyone around Constance strives to hide the ugly truth from her but, it turns out, she has known all along.  Constance is nobody’s fool.  Red faces all around.  But it is what happens next that takes this comedy of manners into Ibsen territory.  More assured than Ibsen’s Nora, Maugham’s Constance not only turns the tables on her unfaithful spouse but carves out a niche for herself, claiming that the economic independence she has earned for herself is the key to opening up the rest of her life.  She is no more bound to her husband by financial need than she is to convention and, some might say, propriety.

It’s a great-looking production, played in-the-round in the theatre’s Ron Barber Studio with a detailed but unfussy set designed by James Rowland, and a parade of 1920s fashions from costume designer Stewart Snape.  The women are especially well-dressed with fur stoles draped over their shoulders like roadkill – reminders that the play has become a period piece, and that some aspects of society have changed considerably since it first opened.

As Constance, Liz Plumpton cuts an elegant figure.  At first she is a little too imperious and not playful enough but she warms up and becomes delightful, her delivery matching the wit of her dialogue.   The characters fire off Widean epigrams like champagne corks – some of the cast handle this mannered way of speaking with great ease.  Particularly impressive is Jo Hill as Barbara, and Danielle Spittle’s Martha improves as the action unfolds.  Plumpton is ably supported by Roger Saunders as old suitor Bernard and Kate Campbell as treacherous Marie-Louise, but it is her moments with husband John that really stand out.  Colin Simmonds’s performance is a delight from start to finish as the smarmy philanderer in a beautifully detailed and executed characterisation.  And very, very funny.

Jaz Davison’s direction has some stylish touches (like the use of butler James Smith for the transitions) but a little lighter handling of the earlier moments would get the performance fizzing along from the get-go.  It’s a soufflé on which the oven door has been opened too soon, but the cast rally and aerate the confection as soon as they settle in.  From that point on The Constant Wife becomes consistently funny.

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Bull and China Shop Interface

AMERICAN BUFFALO
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Thursday 7th June, 2012

The Ron Barber Studio at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre is an excellent, little – sorry, intimate space with an interesting and varied programme of shows. This production of David Mamet’s 1975 three-hander maintains the high standard. It is an absorbing and powerful evening in the company of a trio of low-life petty criminals as they plan a burglary in the back room of a cluttered and dismal junk shop.

The shop is run by Donny (Gerry Lucas), who bankrolls and ‘masterminds’ the job – in as far as his limited abilities allow. He is a bit of a soft touch, especially when it comes to the younger of his acquaintances, Bobby (Michael Radford) and tends to lose patience with the more neurotic Teach (Colin Simmonds). Mamet’s language is earthy and deceptively naturalistic. Add to that, the humour, the underlying sense of menace and the low-level crime, and you have something akin to an American Pinter – this has been noted by others before me. I rather think Mamet is the link between Pinter and Tarantino. Without Mamet, Reservoir Dogs, for example, would be a very different film.

The cast is impeccable. Sleazeball Teach is very funny and yet repugnant and unsettling. Colin Simmonds is note perfect – when Teach finally blows his top and trashes the shop, it is an exhilarating release of the tension that has built up throughout the evening. And what a set it is! Cluttered with details, messy and lived in – this is a credible and workable environment. Colin Judges and his construction team have recreated a corner of 1975. In that studio space, the audience is almost sitting around the card table with the characters. When Teach pushes the shelves over and sends crockery flying, you feel like you will get clobbered. Mark Thompson’s direction keeps the pace up – the set may be cluttered but the action has room to grow, the characters have space to reveal themselves.

Michael Radford’s Bobby is sensitive, barely able to articulate his thoughts. You wonder what would become of him with a different pair of role models. Donny is the indulgent father figure, peeling off banknotes and offering dietary advice. Here I must make special mention of the Chicagoan accents. Vocal coach Jaz Davison has equipped the cast with authentic intonations. I couldn’t fault them.

Gerry Lucas’s performance is the lynch pin of the production and the key to understanding the play. Crime and business are held up as two sides of the same coin – not the rare coin that gives the play its title and the plot its impetus, but a bent, two-headed one. The men approach the burglary as a business venture. At best, they are amoral. This is their version of the American Dream – the right of every man to turn a profit. They are self-serving capitalists and, the play shows us, that road leads to ruin. Donny’s ill-advised loans to Bobby, the inability to handle setbacks (a fourth, unseen accomplice is hospitalised), the use of force and the destruction of the shop (marketplace) all point towards disaster. Suddenly, Mamet’s thirty-odd year old play is bang up-to-date and relevant to fiscal policy and the current financial crisis.

Astounding.