Tag Archives: David Callister

Costa del LOLs

SWAP!

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 28th June, 2016

 

Farce is an art from a bygone age and requires the skills of a sonneteer or a watchmaker to make it work as it should.  Actor Ian Ogilvy turns playwright and director for this production of his new piece and, indeed, all the ingredients are there.  People coming together in the same place for different reasons, misunderstandings, reversals, absurd events – Andy Newell’s set has the requisite number of exits and entrances to facilitate the action…

We are in a villa in Marbella.  Middle-class couple Brian and Susan Flowers are taking a break from their funeral direction business and have ‘swapped’ their Wimbledon home for something more exotic.  Brother-in-law Jeremy is also along for the ride.  Not long after their arrival they find themselves plunged into a nightmare of corpses and confusion.   The owner, now in their house in South London, is a Costa del Sol mobster and his rivals from Torremolinos are out to get him…

It’s not long before a dead body is falling out of a cupboard and we’re off!  A well-worn device of a telephone call for exposition dominates the opening scene, cranking the comic tension right up.  The cast maintain a high level of hysterical sarcasm throughout – Ogilvy directs with an assured hand – there is just the odd moment when the action or pacing needs sharpening.

David Callister is superbly annoying as the nasally verbose undertaker Brian, while Freya Copeland is suitably fed up and scathing as long-suffering wife Susan.  Patric Kearns has a hint of Matt Berry in his Jeremy, and Louisa Lytton’s Coral, the gangster’s moll, is delightfully dim.  David Janson makes a welcome appearance as mobster Paul and there are some enjoyable cameo performances from Michael Kirk, Davies Palmer and Alan Mehdizadeh as a range of characters. The latter’s Harry the Hammer is hilarious and menacing at the same time.  You don’t want villains to be too villainous in farce – just enough to motivate the others to taking action.

On the whole, it all ticks along very well.  Apart from a couple of references to the internet, it could have been written forty years ago – and that’s not a criticism.  Ogilvy has risen to the challenge and has pulled it off.  It’s a pleasure to see things being set up, pieces falling into place, and paying off.  The final absurdity is a masterstroke, both fitting and surprising, and among the machinations of the plot there are some genuinely funny, original jokes.

Performed with comic intensity by a committed company, Swap! is a satisfyingly silly, cleverly constructed and funny farce, with a body count higher than your average murder mystery!  It’s just the tonic in this period of economic and political uncertainty.

A right good, old-school laugh.

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Pickwick From A Distance

THE PICKWICK PAPERS

Festival Theatre, Malvern, Wednesday 4th December, 2013

An ambitious project: to bring Charles Dickens’s rambling, episodic novel (originally a serial) to the stage.  But it has been done magnificently with regard to Nicholas Nickleby, so why not give it a go?  Unfortunately, The Pickwick Papers lacks the scale and the scope of that other book and, most crucially, it lacks drama.  So, what we get with Nicola Boyce’s adaptation is a series of scenes of little consequence involving characters that veer towards caricature.

Ian Dickens (some relation?) directs a cast of faces familiar from his other productions and pretty much gives them an easy ride.  Rebecca Wheatley gives a star turn as Mrs Leo Hunter performing a poem set to music about an ‘expiring frog’ – this characterisation contrasts effectively with her other role as the shy Miss Wardle.  David Callister is enjoyable as conman Jingle, inhabiting the costume and the vernacular with ease.  Poppy Meadows is underused – very funny as Mrs Bardell.  Dean Gaffney is well within his comfort zone as affable manservant Sam Weller – a pity he doesn’t get to flex the comedic muscle we saw earlier this year in Murder in Play.  Daniel Robinson and Scott Grey are the effeminate, giggling, shrieking ninnies Mr Winkle and Mr Snodgrass – they get the best scene in terms of action when poor Winkle finds himself embroiled in a duel thanks to the misconduct of Callister’s Jingle.

On the whole, the cast is very good and looks good in the costumes.  I think part of the problem is the set.  Most of the action takes place on a rostrum but this is set so far upstage it adds further distance between the actors and the audience beyond that provided by the fourth wall.  It is very difficult for them to engage with us and us with them, being so far removed from each other – my seat was fifth row centre and I felt like I needed binoculars.  Often the stage is crowded with people with their backs to us, further shutting us out. A disembodied voice narrates passages to cover scene changes, keeping us at a distance yet again rather than addressing us directly.

Also, the running time is not borne out by the content.  The story, such as it is, is too flimsy to sustain interest for almost three hours.  I found my mind wandering, unable to focus on some of the verbiage – Pickwick, nicely played by John D Collins – is a garrulous old thing but the script is in need of editing.

What should be a delightful, diverting way to pass an evening, becomes something of an endurance test.  It’s like trying to have a five-course meal in a sweet-shop: delightful at first but ultimately unsatisfying and lacking in nutrients.

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Making A Killing

MURDER IN PLAY

Festival Theatre, Malvern, Wednesday 28th May, 2013

 

Noises Off the famous farce-within-a-farce was blatantly the inspiration for Simon Brett’s murder-mystery-within-a-murder-mystery from 1993. It begins with a scene of excruciating dialogue and clunky accents and we fear we’re in for some am dram level old pot-boiler, but, we can relax: this is a rehearsal.  The real characters are a troupe of actors struggling through a run the night before their play is due to open. 

We have Alison Mead as stuffy ‘Lady Chomondley’ as performed by the ‘director’s’ snooty wife; Lord Rodney Pirbright (Dean Gaffney in a James Bond dinner jacket) as performed by Equity stickler ‘Tim’; Katy Manning plays a former soap legend reduced to mugging and girning as cook/housekeeper ‘Mrs Puttock’; Richard Tate in a ridiculous wig as villainous Mr Papadapoulous as portrayed by dotty old sot ‘Harrison Braithwaite’…

Poppy Meadows gives the greatest contrast between her two roles.  As ‘Virginia Chomondley’ she is all cut-glass and straight-necked, and then as actress ‘Ginette Vincent’ she is all ditzy and gor-blimey.  This helps us to keep clear about when they are ‘on’ and when they are ‘off’.

The rehearsal is interrupted by ‘director’ Boris Smolensky – David Callister, mangling vowels and strutting around despotically in pretentious cowboy boots.  It’s a masterly comic turn.  It’s pleasing to see many of the cast, who are old hands at the creaky murder mystery, sending up the genre so effectively. Katy Manning is enjoying herself as health-nut ‘Christa’, firing off bitchy remarks with relish.  Julia Main is hilarious as dopey stage manager Pat, and Dean Gaffney is a revelation, showing a flair for comic timing and face-pulling.  He seems more at ease in this type of thing and should do more comedy.

Richard Tate is the funniest by a country mile.  A veteran performer, he is a master of the silly accent and migrating limp when ‘in role’ but also delivers a fine characterisation as the absent-minded old lush.

It falls to Gemma Bissix as ‘Sophie Lawton’, whose sexy maid outfit hides an analytical mind.  She has great swathes of exposition and explanation to get through in order to reveal the killer – somebody has to do it!  It’s just a pity she doesn’t get to have as much fun with her characterisation as the rest of the cast do with theirs.

Real-life director Ian Dickens keeps it moving.  With farcical shows, you can’t let the balloon touch the ground.  I can’t help wondering how close his own working methods are to those utilised by the on-stage Boris…

A funny, clever script well-played, this production is doing the rounds as part of Ian Dickens Productions’ summer season. It is well worth an evening of anyone’s time.

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Well hard. Dean Gaffney and Poppy Meadows.


Acting Prime Minister

DEAD RINGER
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 3rd July, 2012


When pompous Prime Minister Randolph Bolton keels over and drops dead just days before a general election, the Home Secretary and the Minister for the Arts hit upon a plan to replace him with a look-alike until their election victory is assured.

So begins Charles Ross’s comedy thriller. The far-fetched plot only works because the characters are all objectionable. There is no time for sentiment; it’s all about the cover-up and keeping their unfeasible balloon in the air. And so the backstabbing, manipulations and machinations of the senior Cabinet are revealed. By the interval, it emerges that the PM was murdered, leading to a faster-paced second half. The intrigue and the whodunit aspects keep you interested… but that’s about all that does. You don’t give a monkey’s about this bunch of unsympathetic creatures.

Much of the humour comes from references that would have been topical when the play was new but now evoke nostalgic laughter among those old enough to remember the political climate at the time. Reagan was in the White House and so much is made of having an actor in power (the PM’s double appears to be doing a better job than the real one).

Among this nest of Machiavellian vipers, Keith Drinkel snarls and growls as the uptight Home Secretary, Belinda Carroll looks the part in her power-dressing couture but seems tongue-tied, and Chris Ellison exudes brooding menace as the efficient, shaved-gorilla-in-a-suit security boss. David Callister as the PM and his double has the most to do, establishing in the PM’s brief opening scene enough of the characterisation for us to recognise when he is impersonating himself later on. As the PM’s wife, Joanne Heywood adds cool elegance to the proceedings but the most statesmanlike performance, played with bold and casual assurance comes from Tony Adams. His Foreign Secretary is a man accustomed to power, a man who feels entitled to it and is able to wield it.

And so an unlikely premise turns into an intriguing puzzle that takes sideswipes at politicians and politicking along the way. No one is wholly right or purely honourable it turns out; it’s the electorate who are deceived and cheated the most.

Tell us something we don’t know.