Tag Archives: Dean Gaffney

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.

 Image

Advertisements

A Season Has Been Arranged

SUMMER PLAY SEASON LAUNCH 2013

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 30th May, 2013

 

It has become something of an annual tradition for the Grand to house a month’s worth of plays from Ian Dickens Plays, four weeks of varied fare including, of course, the obligatory murder mystery!  The season kicks off on Tuesday 25th June with Simon Brett’s comedy Murder In Play (which I caught in Malvern last night – read my review here).

Before the launch began, I had a chat with the actor Dean Gaffney.

Dean Gaffney

Dean Gaffney

Congratulations; it’s a very funny show.

DG. Thank you very much.

I’ve seen you in a few things; I think the last one was in Derby…

DG. Ah, yes…

I saw it before the fateful night (In January Dean’s car got up close and personal with the central reservation of the A38) So are you all recovered from that now?

DG. Yes, I mean at the time it was – something like that happens and you think, Am I going to work again?  The nicest thing, as you can probably tell, now is the scar has healed quite a lot and it’s only been four months – so I’m very lucky to be here.

Because I wondered, Has he read my review?  Is that what’s driven him off the road?

DG. Ah, funny!

Did you approach Murder in Play differently to the previous one?

DG.  The previous one is an Agatha Christie so it’s very stylised; it’s very stuck in the 1920s and 30s, and it has to be… you know.  So many people love Agatha Christie – which I found when I did an Agatha Christie about four years ago.

I saw that one as well. The Uninvited Guest?

DG. The Unexpected Guest.  That was a different character – that was someone who had learning difficulties.  The thing about Agatha Christie is that they all come in their droves to see it.  Everyone loves a murder mystery and no one does it better than Agatha Christie.

There is a line in the play, isn’t there, he (Director Boris) says touring audiences will come to see anything with ‘murder’ in the title.

DG. That’s right.  And I think with this one, you’ve got the play-within-the-play, very stylised back in the 1920s, but when you come back into real time, it’s nice to be a bit more casual, a bit more, you know, not so R.P.  So yes, it’s a very different play.  I have a lot more lines in this one I have to say but there’s more … you can relax a little bit more.  Because it’s a comedy as well, I enjoy it more.  I loved doing the Agatha Christie but there’d be times when you’ll be doing a scene and you’ll go, I’ve got another hour and a half!  But the good thing about the comedy is it just flows.

Yeah, you’ve got to keep the pace up otherwise it will fall flat.  I enjoyed your twitch, your tic.

DG. Thank you.

Is there something you really want to do? A role you’d like to tackle?

DG. That’s a good question.  I did a play about four years ago that Alastair McGowan wrote called Timing and that was in the King’s Head in London – it’s a pub theatre but it’s a very prestigious one and there was only 30 to 40 seats so they’re literally on top of you.  So that was interesting, but I’d love to do something like James Corden did, Two Guv’nors.  I’d love to do something where people walk away from the theatre and go, Wow! That’s different than what that person’s been known for.  And I think the hardest thing about the business is you only get that when they know you can do it.  You can only prove that you can do it when you get it.  It’s that thing when someone who’s say, homeless, can’t get a job because they haven’t got an address but how can they get an address if they haven’t got a job?  Sometimes you’re stuck in a rut there but the more that you do things – plays like this, plays that people get to see – slowly but surely, hopefully, that door will open. 

I was thinking about people who like to do Shakespeare, to be taken seriously, to prove that they’ve got the chops to do it.  Have you ever had any kind of leanings towards that?

DG. I love things when they’re modern, i.e. on film – what Baz Luhrmann does with Romeo and Juliet.  I love stuff that’s brought into this era and I think James McAvoy did something recently that’s a bit trendier, and I think if it was something like that, I’d love to do it.  It think if it was straight Shakespeare it would frighten me a bit, and I think that’s when people know whether you’re bloody good or not.  I think you have to have confidence in yourself but I wouldn’t want to be hung out there like that.

You’ve already done some Beckett, haven’t you?

DG. I did Waiting For Godot. It was my first job – with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, and that was good because I was fourteen; I didn’t know what acting was, Jesus!  I was barely out of nappies!  But to learn the craft from two legends like that!  My first job in the West End of London!

Looks great on the C.V.!

DG. Yeah!  To walk around in the middle of that! Obviously I still had my mum and dad with me, but at that age to be working professionally in the West End!

Do you still get called ‘Robbie’?

DG. God, yeah.  The thing about EastEnders is that it’s such a powerful show.  People always say to me, Ooh, do you get recognised in Sainsbury’s? And it’s like you get recognised everywhere!  It’s just part of being in that show.  And I think, yes of course, it dwindles, but I think that show’s so powerful even in 20 years if we were sat here, you’d still be asking the same question, because you’ll never lose it.  There’s certain characters that I might say to you and you’d go, Who are they? But there are certain characters within EastEnders that you’ll never forget.

It’s like Katy Manning’s character in the play.  She’s got this past in a soap that she keeps on about.

DG. Exactly!  That’s the thing about this: people like yourself and actors or people in the business come and see it and they get it.  Some people might go, Why is this old man talking about Richard Burton? In our profession, that’s exactly what the older generation do.

I also managed to grab a few moments with Dean’s former EastEnders colleague Gemma Bissix, also known for her role as glamorous villain Claire in Hollyoaks.

Gemma Bissix

Gemma Bissix

GB. I think I’ve seen you before.

Have you?

GB. Here, a couple of years ago, at a thing like this.

(I didn’t disillusion her but it must have been some other hunk).

I saw the play last night.  Congratulations, it’s very funny!

GB. Thank you!

And well done – it falls to you to turn detective and deliver great swathes of explanation – especially in the second half.

GB. Yes, it’s unusual for a character like mine to have that function.  Usually it’s a Miss Marple or a policeman.

I thought it’s a bit of shame that you don’t get to have as much fun with your characterisation as some of the others do, because you have to play it straight, so that we get all the information we need.

GB.  Yes.  I’m kind of – I’m kind of the cement that holds it together.

This isn’t the first season of this type you’ve been involved with.

GB.  No, I was in  Dry Rot as the maid – and it was such a – it was so nice to play something that was desexualised, you know, because Hollyoaks is so glam, very kind of slinky dresses –

Lipstick and heels!

GB. Absolutely! And to actually play that, to desexualise it completely, and people laugh at you, I find it great.

It shows that sometimes the old plays, they still work.

GB. Oh, absolutely.

You don’t have to be all experimental and controversial.

GB. I think sometimes what an audience needs is that slapstick stuff, they want that, and the farcical kind of thing, and that’s what I think Murder in Play does, even though as you’ve said it’s a Noises Off kind of feel, it’s got that farcical kind of thing to it, hasn’t it?  When they’re coming in and out of the doors…

You’ve got to keep the balloon in the air, haven’t you?

GB. David Callister who plays the director and Richard Tate who plays Harrison, they’ve got such a great double act going on, and it’s not something you might expect from this play at the start but they are – that’s what works, and everybody empathises with different characters – That’s what I love about this play – just silly things – but that’s what I think the audience want nowadays; they just want light relief.  Unless you want to go and see a serious piece like the Agatha Christie that we did – but I think lots of people just want – they come out in the evening – not so far as pantomime season is panto and that’s for adults and children but I do think there is such a big market for farce now because people just want to come and be entertained.

And it’s also thrilling to see something that’s so skilful being pulled off because if farce doesn’t work, there’s nothing worse.

GB. It’s terrible! Oh my goodness!

You’ve got to have the timing.

GB. Or then it’s not funny. Absolutely.

Both actors were then called up to the stage along with Murder In Play co-star Katy Manning and director and producer of the season, Ian Dickens.  The good people of Wolverhampton were not shy in asking pertinent and searching questions.

Question Time. Katy Manning, Ian Dickens, Gemma Bissix, Dean Gaffney

Question Time. Katy Manning, Ian Dickens, Gemma Bissix, Dean Gaffney

Ian Dickens is clearly passionate about his company’s work and spoke frankly and with good humour about the issues raised.  Here is just a sample from that Q&A session.

Q. How do you feel when a theatre is half full – or half empty?

ID. Sad – it means I’m not earning as much!  I work on audience figures of about 40 -50 % capacity in order to bring shows in on budget.  We need to improve the culture in this society of young people coming into the theatre.

KM. Back in the 70s places like this were absolutely packed.

She went on to suggest that people bring youngsters to the theatre as birthday or Christmas presents.

GB. It’s about educating young people, to get them away from reality programmes.

ID. Musicals have made drama the poor relation.  What we have to establish is plays as part of a mix of what a theatre presents.

GB. Plays are considered sort of old-fashioned, because they’re not on television any more.

The discussion – and I hope it’s reported elsewhere – also considered topics such as the state of training of actors and how that has become a business, with the weaker students not being directed into careers more suited to their abilities.  There is a difference between wanting to be famous and doing the job for the love of doing it.

The live broadcasts to cinema from the National Theatre were also discussed, leading to consideration of what a national theatre should and shouldn’t be doing, in Ian Dickens’s view.

On the whole it was a fascinating and rewarding session, going beyond a publicity stunt to entice us back to see the season of plays.

For the record that season comprises:

Murder in Play by Simon Brett – hilarious play-within-a-play

June 25th - 29th

June 25th – 29th

Steaming by Nell Dunn – famous all-female play set in a Turkish bath in London, with ‘some nudity’ starring Rebecca Wheatley and Kim Taylforth

July 2nd - 6th

July 2nd – 6th

The Trouble With Old Lovers by Angela Huth – Ian Dickens’s favourite of the bunch, a great observation of a couple who have each been a bit naughty in the past, starring Peter Amory and Nicola Bryant

troublewitholdlovers

July 9th – 13th

A Murder Has Been Arranged by Emlyn Williams – a ghost story set in a theatre starring Anita Harris and Oliver Mellor.

murderarranged

July 16th – 20th

The plays are visiting other theatres before and after their time in Wolverhampton.

The Wolverhampton season runs from Tuesday 25th June until Saturday 20th July.


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.

murderin play

Well hard. Dean Gaffney and Poppy Meadows.


Death by Disappointment

A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED

Derby Theatre, Tuesday 29th January, 2012

Brother and sister Patrick and Julia are staying with their aunt Lettie in her home in the sleepy village of Chipping Cragburn.  Also knocking around are Lettie’s old friend Dora Bunner, young widow Phillipa, Mrs Swettenham and her son Edmund, and Eastern European housemaid Mitzi… They come across an advertisement in the local paper that someone in that very house is to be murdered that very day at 6:30pm.  Speculation runs rife: who would do such a thing?  Who’s for the chop?  As nerves begin to fray, revelations are teased out.  No one is who they seem…

This is the set-up for Agatha Christie’s play, a sort of who-will-do-it, currently on tour.  I’ve seen several productions of these things by Ian Dickens and they are generally of a high standard.  Unfortunately the same cannot be said for this slow-moving and verbose piece – you can forgive a lot of things if the mystery is intriguing and puzzling enough to keep you hooked.  This one, I’m afraid doesn’t cut it.

Katy Manning is the lynchpin as Aunt Lettie, elegantly stalking around in high heels (and almost stumbling off them at one point).  She is something of a cold fish and consequently, we don’t care.  Her childhood friend, we are led to believe, is Dora Bunner – Claire Fisher plays the spinster as a whiny, childlike, on-some-kind-of-spectrum figure; she is consistent in her characterisation, I’ll give her that, but it’s very wearing on the patience.  A bit of variety in delivery would make her more sympathetic and also she could do with looking older – at first I thought she was a younger sister or even daughter.

Gemma Bissix is underused as the snitty, bored Julia.  Dean Gaffney as her brother Patrick seems to have a self-satisfied smile plastered to his fizzog.  He’s supposed to be the urbane twit of the piece but, and this is symptomatic of the whole, lacks the verve and energy necessary to bring the play to life.

Here’s the thing: you cannot perform a piece like this entirely naturalistically.  The characters aren’t fully rounded representations of people.  They are sketches, types, and sometimes only ciphers.  You have to heighten the portrayal to draw us in.  In my view, those who pull off this feat are Julia Main as Mitzi the maid, Geraldine Newman as amateur sleuth Miss Marple, and John D Collins as Inspector Craddock.  These three seem to have a spark I couldn’t detect in the rest of the cast, although Poppy Meadows as widow-with-a-secret Phillipa has her moments.

The plot, more contrived than a Heath Robinson contraption, lumbers on for over two and a half hours.  Not enough jeopardy and not enough murders.  The cast seemed to be forever bumping into the furniture and the names of the village and some unseen foreign characters caused them difficulties.

I fear this production has murdered my enthusiasm for these Agatha Christie plays, and I’ve got another one lined up next week.

murderisannounced