Tag Archives: Daniella Beattie
THE STRANGE UNDOING OF PRUDENCIA HART
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Tuesday 2nd July, 2019
First produced by the National Theatre of Scotland in 2011 as a piece of pub theatre, David Grieg’s engaging play gets a production on a grander scale at the New Vic. It begins as a meeting of academics at a conference about folk ballads and, as everyone speaks in rhyming couplets, there is a heightened sense to the narrative. We meet our heroine, the bookish, strait-laced Prudencia (Suni La) fighting her corner against pretentious naysayers and revisionists. We meet Colin (Matthew McVarish) blokey and annoying. We meet a host of characters as the ensemble of four populate the increasingly rowdy and drunken conference. It’s funny stuff and the humour is engendered and enhanced by the writing. The rhymes are sophisticated and witty; director Anna Marsland is at pains to retain the patterns of naturalistic speech without glossing over the rhymes. Grieg makes great use of enjambment and assonance and other things I barely remember from A Level English Lit.
Prudencia sets out in the snow to find a B&B… An encounter with a character from her beloved ballads changes things forever. ‘Nick’ (David Fairs) is all the more sinister because of his normalcy. He is in fact the Devil, come to take Prudencia to Hell.
It’s a play of two halves. After the verse of the first half, the second is mainly in prose. It gets a bit meta as Prudencia tries to use verse to assert power and make her escape.
Suni La makes Prudencia an appealing figure, who loosens up as the action unfolds. For her, Hell is a transformative experience. David Fairs is superb as the satanic Nick, funny, charming and formidable – scary at times. Matthew McVarish is great fun as the drunken Colin, the unwitting hero, and there is sterling support from Eleanor House as a moustachioed professor and Alice Blundell as a plaintive Woman. All the cast play musical instruments and sing, keeping the pub flavour of the entertainment going.
E. M. Parry’s design has books suspended like bunting – the books are integral to the storytelling, with illuminated pop-up versions displaying locations. Marsland uses books as stepping-stones to help Prudencia along her journey, which is symbolic as well as visually satisfying. Daniella Beattie’s lighting and charming projections enhance the storytelling nature of the piece. All levels of the auditorium are put to use, so while we don’t get the intimacy of a pub theatre, we are surrounded by the action as well as being part of it.
Irresistibly engaging, beautifully presented, and ultimately life-affirming, this unusual yet accessible play is a delight from start to finish. And who doesn’t enjoy a bit of Kylie? (And no, it’s not Better The Devil You Know)
Suni La as Prudencia Hart (Photo: Andrew Billington)
Leave a comment | tags: Alice Blundell, Anna Marsland, Daniella Beattie, David Fairs, David Grieg, E M Parry, Eleanor House, Matthew McVarish, National Theatre of Scotland, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, review, Suni La, The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart | posted in Review, Theatre Review
THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Saturday 24th November, 2018
This brand-new adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s novel is written by the New Vic’s genius-in-residence, Theresa Heskins, and is directed by Peter Leslie Wild. It bears all the hallmarks of a great New Vic Christmas show, with the Workshop and technical crew all flexing their creative muscles to translate fantastic worlds onto the stage. And so, Laura Willstead’s set has painted branches, like illustrations, and sprigs of greenery draped all around. Tree trunks made of cloth descend from above, like roots probing into soil, to create the Wild Woods… while Lis Evans’s Edwardian costumes give us the pre-WWI period while emphasising the anthropomorphism of Grahame’s characters; ears on hats and tails protruding from trouser seats are all that differentiate species.
With original music by Matt Baker, performed by the cast, the story unfolds, beginning with Alicia McKenzie’s inquisitive Mole setting off on adventure. She encounters Richard Keightley’s dapper Ratty and their voyage in his boat is positively lovely, with Daniella Beattie’s lighting and projections creating a captivating illusion. Emma Manton’s Badger, younger and more female than is traditional, is schoolma’am-ish and forthright, but it’s Matthew Burns’s long-suffering Horse who delights the most. Burns later appears as a cheerfully macabre Jailer, when Rob Witcomb’s ebullient Toad falls foul of the Law.
This Toad is sweet-natured despite his manic obsessions. Witcomb makes him more of an Ed Balls figure than a Boris Johnson, while Kieran Buckeridge’s villainous Fox is more exploitative and, yes, more than a bit scary. Even scarier is Sophia Hatfield’s strident Mrs Otter; you would not like to tangle with her.
The whole enterprise is played with exuberance by the talented ensemble. Their choral singing is enough to melt your heart. Peter Leslie Wild’s direction keeps things moving, and very much in the New Vic in-house style, with cast members holding up shelves, car wheels and so on, to keep the scenery flowing. The sequence involving the train is breath-takingly executed, a remarkable piece of physical theatre.
Heskins tweaks the ending a little to give us a timely nudge in these dark days of austerity and isolationism. Wealth is better shared, Toad demonstrates, better when it’s put to use creating opportunities for the marginalised. It’s subtly done, augmenting the heart-warming feelings the show has engendered from the start.
Cosy, charming and consistently amusing, this is a family show that makes you feel as warm and fuzzy as the woodland creatures it portrays.
A car getting toad. Rob Witcomb, poop poop!
Leave a comment | tags: Alicia McKenzie, Daniella Beattie, Emma Manton, Kenneth Grahame, Kieran Buckeridge, Laura Willstead, Lis Evans, Matt Baker, Matthew Burns, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Peter Leslie Wild, review, Richard Keightley, Rob Witcomb, Sophia Hatfield, The Wind in the Willows, Theresa Heskins | posted in Review, Theatre Review
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Saturday 25th November, 2017
With this new adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic adventure, Theresa Heskins plots a course for another big Christmas hit. Setting her version firmly in the North West, there is a host of Merseyside accents here – a change from the now-cliched West Country aarrs we immediately associate with the genre! Our hero is plucky Gem Hawkins (a plucky Nisa Cole) who has to disguise herself as a cabin boy, having stowed away on board a ship bound for the titular island. Cole is a ball of energy, likeable and expressive, and our guide through this dangerous, exciting world.
Another change is that Doctor Livesey is also female (Ellen Chivers) but if the TARDIS can have one, why not the Hispaniola?
Into the sleepy coastal pub where Jem works with her mother (a forceful Jessica Dyas) comes a stranger – in the book he’s Billy Bones, here he’s Captain Flint (Richard Costello), bringing with him intrigue, mystery and action but also electric guitars! Suddenly, James Atherton’s score is alive with heavy rock! It’s a surprise and a welcome one. Atherton can write in any style, it seems, and this deliberate period-smashing inclusion heightens the energy levels and the theatricality of the storytelling. Heskins directs with customary wit and invention (Flint polishing off plate after plate of eggs and bacon is a delight!) and everything is in service of the narrative. However, it does feel at times that the narrative loses momentum and needs crank-starting every now and then as the next iconic moment appears on the horizon.
The production is rich with gems: Andy Burse’s Squire Trelawney is a hugely enjoyable, upper-class buffoon; Lauryn Redding’s Darby McGraw is in great voice and is the most menacing of the pirates (female pirates are well-documented); William Pennington is a sweetly mad Ben Gunn – and he plays a mean xylophone; and Gareth Cassidy’s Red Dog is amusing in his intensity and attempts at subterfuge.
Tom Peters’s Long John Silver lacks the impact or charisma of Costello’s Flint, and it takes quite a while for the character to come alive. His first scene requires him to sit, static, an approach which provides contrast to all the action we’ve seen so far, but denies him a big introduction. We need to engage with him in order to be taken in. Stevenson makes him a morally ambiguous figure and his relationship with Jim/Gem is key.
Certain moments are perfect. A dance of tropical birds, fleshed out by members of the Young Company and accompanied by Atherton’s rousingly tropical score, is a delight for eye and ear. The scene with Gem and agile baddie Israel Hands (Leon Scott) in the ship’s rigging is the best scene of the piece: tense and expertly executed. The pirates’ song that opens the second act. James Atherton’s score as a whole. The New Vic’s production team: Lis Evans’s costumes, Daniella Beattie’s lighting, Alex Day’s sound… as ever, production values are high, from the big ideas (the wooden frame that lowers to represent the ship) to the smallest detail (the puppet parrot is elegantly performed (by Jessica Dyas).
There is a wealth of good ideas here, enough to get us through the patchy (eye-patchy?) bits when the dramatic thrust of the plot is becalmed.
Funny, thrilling and inventive, this is one worth setting sail for.
The show is rigged! Nisa Cole leads a cast of pirates
Leave a comment | tags: Alex Day, Andy Burse, Daniella Beattie, Ellen Chivers, Gareth Cassidy, James Atherton, Jessica Dyas, Lauryn Redding, Leon Scott, Lis Evans, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Nisa Cole, review, Richard Costello, Robert Louis Stevenson, Theresa Heskins, Tom Peters, Treasure Island, WIlliam Pennington | posted in Theatre Review
ANNA OF THE FIVE TOWNS
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Wednesday 31st May, 2017
It’s 150 years since the birth of Stoke-on-Trent writer, Arnold Bennett. To commemorate this, the New Vic has commissioned this new stage adaptation of one of his Stoke-based novels. The theatre has always sought to offer material about its local area and its people, but will this piece with its Stokie accents and dialect speak to anyone who comes from a town other than those listed in the ‘five’?
Yes, of course it does.
Writer Deborah McAndrew skillfully distills the events of the book to a couple of hours traffic on the stage, with strong characters and economic narrative techniques so that time and place are evoked superbly. The costumes add to the authenticity, while the set, designed by Dawn Allsopp – all-brick floor (industry built this place), with a sunken rectangle for Anna’s dining room at the centre, (the hub of Anna’s world around which all other events take place) – brings style and stylisation for this otherwise naturalistic piece. Daniella Beattie’s lighting mullions the set with patches, evoking architecture as well as mood – and there is a special effect at the end that is startlingly powerful.
Anna Tellwright (Lucy Bromilow) has been housekeeper for her father and mother figure for her little sister almost her whole life. Dad (Robin Simpson) is a bit of a tyrant. He feels his grip slipping when Anna comes of age and inherits a shedload of money. Naturally, being a man, he takes control of her finances: we can’t have women being all independent of men, can we? Bennett, writing in 1902, long before suffrage, captures the fragility of the traditionally masculine. Dad can only lash out, tighten the reins and almost combust as he fears his position being edged into the side-lines. Simpson is excellent as this incendiary man. Mr Tellwright’s explosions of rage are like fireworks going off unexpectedly.
Bromilow is no shrinking violet Cinderella. Driven by a sense of duty, she finds it difficult to enjoy her new wealth. Her eyes are opened to the human cost of capitalism when a man is driven to suicide because he cannot make his repayments. She glimpses what fun money can bring, when she dares to dip her toe into the waters of independence, but she never truly gets to let her hair down; her hedonism consists of the purchase of some new clobber and a fortnight on the Isle of Man – which she ends up being spending as nursemaid to a friend with the flu. Anna’s lot is not one of frivolity and profligate spending. She maintains the same straitlaced starchiness throughout, whatever she’s doing. I would like to see Bromilow’s Anna let rip, just once, and lighten up!
In contrast is never-lifted-a-finger-in-her-life, well-off young woman, Beatrice Sutton (Molly Roberts, who brings colour in her dresses and humour in her portrayal). Also delightful is Rosie Abraham as Anna’s little sister Agnes: it is through Anna’s sacrifice that Agnes is permitted a childhood rather than a life of domestic service.
Now rich, Anna becomes inexplicably attractive to her chum from Sunday school, young gent Henry Mynors (a suitably dapper Mark Anderson) and she accepts his marriage proposal – almost impetuously. Meanwhile, decent and hard-working Willie Price (not a porn name!) offers a chance at true love. Benedict Shaw is perfectly placed as the upstanding Willie, handsome and down-to-earth. Who will Anna choose? Unable to follow her heart, it is her sense of duty not any taste for the high life that leads our heroine to make her choice – with tragic consequences.
The production is superb: strong on atmosphere, with choral singing of hymns and folk tunes covering scene transitions. Kudos to musical director Ashley Thompson for the vocal work, accompanied by the occasional brass instrument for added local colour.
Director Conrad Nelson manages the changes of tone so that we are drawn into this society and enjoy our time there. The interval comes and you realise that while you’ve been seduced by the sound and the visuals, not much has happened really. The drama is mostly condensed into the second half. Bennett’s story is at heart a melodrama but he goes against the norms of the genre: the happy ending here is that duty has been served, rather than Anna getting the man she loves and deserves. And that’s no happy ending at all. For the time being, female independence has been shut back into Pandora’s box…
Yet another example of excellence from all departments at the New Vic. With Stoke-on-Trent bidding for ‘City of Culture 2021’, this theatre must surely be the keystone of the campaign.
Cheer up, duck. Lucy Bromilow, Mark Anderson and Benedict Shaw (Photo: Steve Bould)
Leave a comment | tags: Anna of the Five Towns, Arnold Bennett, Ashley Thompson, Benedict Shaw, City of Culture 2021, Conrad Nelson, Daniella Beattie, Dawn Allsopp, Deborah McAndrew, Lucy Bromilow, Mark Anderson, Molly Roberts, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, review, Robin Simpson, Rosie Abraham, Stoke on Trent | posted in Theatre Review
DIAL M FOR MURDER
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Wednesday 3rd May, 2017
I have seen several productions of Frederick Knott’s masterpiece over the years but never in-the-round, so it’s intriguing to see how a story in which doors and windows are so important is staged with neither of these features…
The short answer is: brilliantly.
Lis Evans’s design gives us the London flat of Tony and Sheila Wendice, complete with floor plan showing us where the doors and French windows are, like an architect’s plan. The flat is an island set on a sea of street maps, to give us the Maida Vale setting, while stylish furniture evokes the 1950s period. Rather than have his actors mime the opening and closing of the non-existent doors, director Peter Leslie Wild opts for lighting changes and sound effects – the added bonus is we see characters arriving at the flat before they ring the doorbell, increasing the dramatic irony, and also exposing the workings of Knott’s taut plot – it’s like watching an exquisitely made clock with its cogs in full view.
Nicole Bartlett is a rather cool Sheila in the Grace Kelly mode, elegant and vulnerable. Daniel Easton is a likeable Max – her one-time boyfriend – and Paul Brendan is a workmanlike Inspector Hubbard, teasing out the complexities of the crime. But it is William Ellis’s Tony, the mastermind of the murder plot, who captivates, weaving his web of intrigue and drawing us in – even if we know what’s coming. Rob Heanley’s Lesgate is the heavy, coerced into doing the dirty deed, completing a flawless ensemble.
Daniella Beattie’s lighting adds to the atmosphere, although things are a little too hazy at the start, as if the peasouper in the streets has invaded the flat. James Earl-Davis’s sound has plenty to do to give us the sense of the flat, accompanying the action with appropriate sound effects, but there is also something disconcerting in the air, keeping us on edge.
There is something incredibly satisfying in seeing Tony scheme his detailed scheme, topped only by seeing how it is foiled, brought down by a similar attention to detail. Much of it comes from Knott’s superlative writing, of course, but this production’s skilful handling of some wordy scenes along with tense moments of action and suspense, delivers all the thrills in all the right places.
Plan for murder – Lis Evans’s set design for Dial M For Murder (Photo: Mark Douet)
Leave a comment | tags: Daniel Easton, Daniella Beattie, Dial M For Murder, Frederick Knott, James Earl-Davis, Lis Evans, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Nicole Bartlett, Paul Brendan, Peter Leslie Wright, review, Rob Heanley, William Ellis | posted in Theatre Review
New Vic Theatre, Tuesday 7th February, 2017
The New Vic has teamed up with Northern Broadsides for this new version of the classic romance by Edmond Rostand. Writer Deborah McAndrew cleverly keeps the play as a verse drama – it’s not just rhyming couplets and doggerel; it’s a technical achievement in itself, let alone its faithfulness to the original while having an altogether fresh feel. It’s her best work yet.
Director Conrad Nelson blends naturalism with more heightened moments – the changes in pace and tone of each act are handled to perfection. We laugh, we love, we cry – in all the right places. Nelson has also composed the score, performed by the ensemble of actor-musicians, that adds to the period feel and the emotional impact of each act. Led for the most part by Michael Hugo’s Ligniere, the music casts its spell as much as the story and the characters. Hugo is such an appealing presence as the minstrel – I also enjoy his ham actor Monfleury, heckled off the stage by the eponymous Cyrano.
Christian Edwards in the title role is outstanding – and I don’t just mean his massive conk. He is everything you could wish for in a Cyrano de Bergerac. Swaggering, witty, charming, brave and selfless. Edwards plays it with panache, literally and figuratively. He is supported by a team of excellent players: Sharon Singh is an elegant Roxane, headstrong and independent – worthy of Cyrano’s devotion. Adam Barlow is the handsome but dim Christian, the third point of the love triangle – he contrasts nicely with Cyrano’s erudition and we can’t help but see how sweet he is. Andy Cryer’s De Guiche changes our opinion – we see there’s more to him than the figure lampooned by Ligniere. Paul Barnhill’s poetic pastry-purveyor Ragueneau, Perry Moore’s prancing ponce Valvert, Jessica Dyas’s sardonic Mrs Ragueneau, Francesca Mills’s busybody Sister Martha, all help to populate the story with a wide range of characters, different facets of humanity – Rostand has respect for all walks of life and yet he makes Cyrano seem more human than all of us. Especially touching is Andrew Whitehead’s Le Bret, his heart breaking to see Cyrano’s decline.
Lis Evans’s design is stylish – the stage floor is beautiful – and the New Vic’s costume department has pulled out all the stops for the 17th century setting. Daniella Beattie’s lighting emulates the soft glow of the chandeliers with the occasional shaft of brightness – like Cyrano’s wit, enlivening the gloom.
Cyrano’s panache tickles the funny bone before plunging into your heart. I know it’s only February but already I think I might have seen the show of the year.
“You don’t have to put on the red light…” Cyrano (Christian Edwards) and Roxane (Sharon Singh) Photo: Steve Bould
1 Comment | tags: Adam Barlow, Andrew Whitehead, Andy Cryer, Christian Edwards, Conrad Nelson, Cyrano, Cyrano De Bergerac, Daniella Beattie, Deborah McAndrew, Edmond Rostand, Francesca Mills, Jessica Dyas, Lis Evans, Michael Hugo, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Northern Broadsides, Paul Banhill, Perry Moore, review, Sharon Singh | posted in Theatre Review
THE SNOW QUEEN
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Saturday 26th November, 2016
Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale is given the Theresa Heskins treatment in this beautiful new version that continues the New Vic’s impeccable tradition of superlative Christmas entertainment. Heskins’s adaptation improves on the original, in my opinion, by giving the Snow Queen a backstory. We understand why she is the way she is by seeing how she became the bogeyman, a legend used to frighten children. The play begins with a sweet courtship scene between the awkward Soren Sorenson (a sweetly clumsy and tongue-tied Oliver Mawdsley) and Karen, the object of his affection. They skate around the issue – literally: the cast wear inline roller skates to glide around – and come to an understanding, only to have tragedy strike, putting their romance on ice.
Polly Lister gives a chilling performance as the icy, mournful ghost. Everything about her is striking, the voice especially. Once again, we are treated to a magnificent score by genius composer James Atherton, and Lister’s voice is the strongest of the night. Her scenes with Kai (Luke Murphy) are reminiscent of Edmund and the White Witch of Narnia, and there are echoes of other tales, other myths: Summer’s garden, on which Gerda becomes trapped, is like Circe’s island, and the three puzzles Kai must solve remind me of icy Turandot’s riddles with their one-word answers.
Natasha Davidson is an appealing heroine/narrator as the plucky yet bookish Gerda. Books form the scenic elements here, great slabs like ice floes. There is a running theme that storybooks are at least as valuable as factual ones. The Dickensian, Gove-like education meted out by Schoolteacher (Rachael Garnett) is not enough to get children through life and its problems. Creative thought is vital to our survival.
It’s a stunningly beautiful show, visually, thanks to Laura Clarkson’s set (the stage floor is especially important to the story), Lis Evans colourful Danish-Victorian chic costumes, and Daniella Beattie’s magical lighting design; and aurally, courtesy of Atherton’s evocative compositions, played on stage by the talented actor-musicians.
The splendid leads are supported by equally strong ensemble members. Matthew Ganley’s Bitzer, for example, and Rachel Dawson’s Robbergirl, help to populate Gerda’s account with engaging characters. Heskins’s direction includes her trademark ‘distance fighting’, a kind of non-contact violence that is expressive, effective and fun, and there are also stand-out sequences, like the toboggan race, the flight of the Snow Queen, and a stunning backwards scene – Heskins puts the performer at the heart of her stage effects. She gives the design and tech teams challenges (which they meet, no question) but she is essentially an actors’ director and, above all that, a consummate storyteller.
Ultimately heart-warming, this is the perfect entertainment for a chilly winter’s night. You leave the theatre feeling cosy and warm. It’s the simple, uncomplicated things of life that make you feel good, especially at this time of year – I suppose this is the hygge that’s all the rage these days, something that Hans Christian Andersen knew all about.
Frozen assets: Polly Lister as the Snow Queen (Photo: Andrew Billington)
Leave a comment | tags: Daniella Beattie, Hans Christian Andersen, hygge, James Atherton, Laura Clarkson, Lis Evans, Luke Murphy, Matthew Ganley, Natasha Davidson, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Oliver Mawdsley, Polly Lister, Rachael Garnett, Rachel Dawson, review, The Snow Queen, Theresa Heskins | posted in Theatre Review
PETER PAN IN SCARLET
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Tuesday 26th July, 2016
Theresa Heskins adapts and directs this world premiere: the first stage version of the ‘official’ sequel to J M Barrie’s classic. The novel, by Geraldine McCaughrean, takes Barrie’s world and characters and moves them on, away from the innocent times of playing in an Edwardian nursery. The world has changed. It’s not so much that Wendy and John have grown up but the world has too. The First World War has changed and tainted things forever. It is suggested that their brother Michael (the little one with the teddy bear) was killed in action.
And so the entire piece is permeated with sadness and a sense of loss, alleviated in part by the exuberance of the cast and the infectiously jaunty score by composer and M.D. (and genius) James Atherton. 1920s jazz informs the aesthetic and members of the cast reveal themselves to be virtuosi on a range of instruments. Jonathan Charles’s Slightly gives a star turn on the clarinet – and special mention goes to Natasha Lewis for her raunchy trombone.
The plot is action-packed. Wendy and John recruit some of the Lost Boys for a return visit to Neverland, following a series of nightmares. The play opens with one of these, a recap of the demise of Captain Hook – Andrew Pollard has never looked more dashing and debonair. In order to fly back, the grown-up children hatch a fairy (New Vic favourite Michael Hugo being delightfully funny as Fireflyer) for a handy supply of dust, and don their own children’s clothes in order to be children again. A strong theme is that clothes make man – you are what you wear, as Gok Wan would have it. There is some truth in this idea of life as a game of dressing-up, but I’d add that it’s also how people react to the clothes we wear that shapes our behaviour. When Pan puts on an old red pirate coat, he takes on the unpleasant characteristics of his former nemesis. Clothes make Pan.
Isaac Stanmore (formerly Dracula and Robin Hood) returns as another New Vic leading man and brings out Pan’s never-ending supply of youthful energy. He also delivers the changes to Pan’s nature as the coat takes over, becoming a nasty-minded tyrant before our very eyes. Perry Moore is also a returning player; this time he’s John, shedding his grown-up stuffiness for a more boyish, adventurous personality. Rebecca Killick’s Wendy is fun and assertive without being the bossy little madam she is sometimes shown to be. Suzanne Ahmet cuts a dash as Tootles, a doctor who has to borrow his daughter’s clothes – notions of gender identity are teased at – and Mei Mac exudes energy as Tinkerbell. The mighty Andrew Pollard creates a creepy and compelling presence as the friendly but sinister Ravello, wraithlike and charming.
The whole cast must be absolutely knackered, with all the running around, physicality and, of course, the flying – here portrayed by climbing up lengths of silk and bringing to mind the New Vic’s production of Peter Pan a few years ago, which was the most beautiful and moving version of the story I have ever seen. There are moments of beauty here too, with the silks, the sails, the lighting (designed by Daniella Beattie) – and I am struck by how bloody good the sound design is; James Earls-Davis works wonders in this arena setting to give us a cinematic soundtrack that is finely focussed, helping us to follow the action, which at times can be very busy and frenetic. Theresa Heskins employs some of her trademark tricks – maps are ‘thrown’ across the stage, fights are carried out across a distance, softening the violence in one way, making it all the clearer in another – and her well of theatrical invention seems never to run dry. The result is a charming if melancholic experience, rich with ideas and played to perfection. The show only suffers from a lack of audience familiarity with the material. We wonder where it’s going rather than wonder at it. But then, Peter Pan was new once too.
Suits you, sir. Ravello (Andrew Pollard) helps Pan (Isaac Stanmore) into his scarlet coat, while Fireflyer (Michael Hugo) looks on, aghast. (Photo: Geraint Lewis)
Leave a comment | tags: Andrew Pollard, Daniella Beattie, Geraldine McCaughrean, Isaac Stanmore, J M Barrie, James Atherton, James Earl-Davis, Jonathan Charles, Mei Mac, Michael Hugo, Natasha Lewis, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Perry Moore, Peter Pan In Scarlet, Rebecca Killick, review, SUzanne Ahmet, Theresa Heskins | posted in Theatre Review
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Tuesday 10th March, 2015
Director Theresa Heskins has adapted the Bram Stoker novel fairly faithfully for this brand new production – most of the main characters are here and all the key scenes but what lifts this version above and beyond the main pre-existing others is…well, everything.
The stage is darker than I’ve ever seen it. Not only does this lend a creepy atmosphere but it focusses our hearing. Sound is brought to the fore in the form of sound effects, performed live by the cast – we’ve all seen footage of radio drama being recorded or sound effects being added to a film soundtrack. At first, as the effects support the mime of the actors, you look up to their workbenches to see how the sounds are produced, but after a while, you let that go as the action draws you in. Sound designers James Earl-Davis and Alex Day are certainly inventive and undeniably ‘effect’-ive. Also, the eerie music and atonal soundscapes of brilliant composer James Atherton create an unsettling mood, as evocative as they are unnerving.
An excellent Isaac Stanmore is a lively Jonathan Harker, arriving at Castle Dracula, and our narrator. Light and dark create doorways – as with radio drama, the scenery is left to our imagination. Daniella Beattie’s lighting is precise and sharp, using chiaroscuro like an Old Master to illuminate or keep in shadow. With horror, it’s not so much what is shown as what remains hidden. And what we don’t see, we hear. That sound may really be a fork plunging into half a cabbage or whatever, but to our engaged imaginations, it is something much, much worse.
From his first entrance, Jack Klaff’s Dracula casts a long shadow – just as the character does over the rest of the proceedings. He stalks around the stage at a steady pace, intoning his lines without melodrama. That famous line about the “children of the night” is absolutely chilling here – Heskins has successfully avoided all notions of the camp and the kitsch. The well-worn story comes across as something entirely fresh. Klaff, with his snow-white hair and his exotic vocal tones embodies menace. His three brides (Hazel Lam, Sophie Morris, and Rebecca Rennison) bring Gothic eroticism in their seduction of Jonathan Harker, shinning up lengths of rope and silk and contorting themselves in mid-air. It’s rather spectacular but the work of ‘aerial director’ Vicki Amedume really packs a visual punch in the second act, when Dracula, now younger and revitalised and Jonathan Charles, hovers over Mina’s bed, slowly swooping down to her in hypnotic silence. Absolutely stunning.
Charles also moves with inhuman grace – his Dracula is not like us at all, and more animalistic than Klaff’s elder statesman.
Jasmine Blackborow is Lucy, full of girlish verve until the Count sinks his fangs into her. Her transformation into an undead wraith is superbly realised and so is her execution with a stake to the heart. Here sound and visuals combine in a moment of sheer horror. And yet there is nary a flash of fang or a drop of blood – Heskins keeps those details in our minds, and there’s nowhere scarier than one’s one mind.
New Vic stalwart Ali Watt’s Dr Seward has an emotive outburst, while John O’Mahony’s Professor Van Helsing maintains a sort of calm urgency. Sarah Schoenbeck’s Mina, ostensibly the damsel in distress, has an inner strength and an appeal that goes beyond her character’s function in the plot. Indeed, the whole ensemble is top notch – even the unseen Renfield, played (vocally) to the hilt by Conrad Nelson. Scenes are interspersed with recorded snatches of the lunatic’s case, as a counterpoint to the main action, a scientific examination to contrast with the supernatural events as they unfold. Unfortunately there is no pay-off for Renfield – the extracts don’t really go anywhere.
Tables and beds, formed of black blocks, rise and sink into the stage floor, the trap doors yawning like graves… There are many things about this production, both in form and in content, that will stay with me for a long time. Heskins has triumphed yet again in this departure from her usual style and has created a piece that is truly memorable, creepy and above all, beautiful.
1 Comment | tags: Ali Watt, Bram Stoker, Conrad Nelson, Daniella Beattie, Dracula, Hazel Lam, Isaac Stanmore, Jack Klaff, James Atherton, James Earl-Davis, Jasmine Blackborow, John O'Mahoney, Jonathan Charles, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Rebecca Rennison, review, Sarah Schoenbeck, Sophie Morris, Theresa Heskins, Vicki Amedume | posted in Theatre Review
STONES IN HIS POCKETS
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Friday 5th July, 2013
Here’s a link to my review on The Sentinel website.
Leave a comment | tags: Colin Connor, Daniella Beattie, Glen Wallace, James Atherton, James Earl-Davis, Marie Jones, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Paul Warwick, review, Stones in His Pockets | posted in Theatre Review