Tag Archives: Dona Croll

Bostin’ Austen


The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 8th November, 2017


Not the Donald Trump story but Jane Austen’s finest and funniest novel, brought to the stage in this touring production by Regent’s Park Theatre, in a sparkling adaptation by Simon Reade.

Reade captures the wit of the dialogue and the spirit of each character, and director Deborah Bruce includes moments of broader comedy, as well as linking scenes with stylised sequences that evoke both period, character and storytelling.  Choreography plays a huge part in creating atmosphere and adding to the fun, courtesy of movement director Sian Williams and beautiful, haunting music composed by Lillian Henley.  The characters, dressed by Tom Piper, inhabit the elegant revolving set (designed by Max Jones) – decorative railings and sweeping staircases serve for all locations, aided by Tina Machugh’s expressive lighting.  Production values are high and the excellent cast lives up to them.

Felicity Montagu is in superb form as Mrs Bennet, desperate to marry off her five daughters to whomever crosses their path.  Matthew Kelly is equally delightful as her long-suffering husband and the indulgent father of his brood.  Of the girls, Hollie Edwin certainly looks the part as the pretty one, Jane, and Mari Izzard bounces around as the spirited one, Lydia.  Of course, it is Elizabeth who is our focus, winningly played by Tafline Steen, tempering Elizabeth’s headstrong nature with charm and humour.  Benjamin Dilloway towers over proceedings as a sour-faced but handsome Mr Darcy and it’s not long before we are willing the pair to get together, in this quintessential rom-com.

There is strong support from Steven Meo as the insufferable parson Mr Collins and Daniel Abbott is a suitably dashing and roguish Mr Wickham.  Dona Croll impresses as the haughty Lady Catherine De Bourgh, a forerunner of Lady Bracknell, and I also like Kirsty Rider’s snobbish Miss Caroline.

Elizabeth and Darcy may be the stars but it is the double-act of Montagu and Kelly, two seasoned performers with exquisite comic timing, that have the star quality among this comparatively young and inexperienced ensemble.  Mr and Mrs Bennet are a joy to behold.

Delivered with a lightness of touch, this is an utterly charming evening at the theatre, a refreshing retelling of the classic tale.  Austen seems as fresh and funny as she ever was and her wry observations of human nature, albeit in a rarefied and bygone milieu, still delight and ring true.


Felicity Montagu and Matthew Kelly stealing the show (Photo: Johan Persson)

A Miller’s Tale


The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 24th March, 2015


Arthur Miller’s 1947 play – one of his great domestic tragedies – receives a refreshing new production from the acclaimed Talawa theatre company, with an all-black cast. It’s an interesting take and what ultimately comes across is that it’s not the colour of the skin, it’s the common humanity underneath it that gives this piece its power.

Joe Keller (Ray Shell) is looking forward to handing over his factory to grown-up son Chris (Leemore Marrett Jr) but Chris has other ideas. He wants to marry Annie the former girlfriend of his brother Larry, who has been missing for three years or so. Larry’s mother and Joe’s wife Kate refuses to believe that Larry is gone for good. She’s even got neighbour Frank to draw up a horoscope for Larry in the hope of reassurance.

Yes, there is tension beneath the surface but on the whole they seem like an amiable bunch – funny, even. But Arthur Miller won’t let things go on like this for much longer. Gradually, details bubble to the surface and patriarch Joe must face his past transgressions. Ray Shell is marvellous as Joe, paternalistic and funny. He and Leemore Marrett Jr share some explosive ding-dong scenes, beautifully handled by director Michael Buffong.

Also excellent is Dona Croll as the matriarch desperate to keep things together through the power of denial. In fact there is much to appreciate in this production, which comes across as more of an August Wilson than an Arthur Miller – but it is Miller who is the man of the moment – everyone’s doing him in this year marking the centenary of his birth.

There is character work to be savoured: Andrea Davy as neighbour Sue; Chinna Wodu as amateur astrologer Frank; Bethan Mary-James as Frank’s pretty wife (easily the most Tennessee Williams-like of the characters!) – all make an impression. Kemi-Bo Jacobs Ann is stylish and has great poise but I wish she wouldn’t roam around the set so much, like a graceful princess from a different story.

Director Michael Buffong needs to keep an ear on the accents, for consistency, so that they don’t roam around either.

Ellen Cairns’s beautiful set suggests the sultriness of a Tennessee Williams, although in this play it is not sexual worms that are spilling out of the can.

It all unfolds at a steady pace and though the ending has more than a touch of Hedda Gabler to it, Miller’s play still packs a punch and is served very well in this eminently watchable and emotive production.

Ray Shell and Dona Kroll (Phto: Pamela Raith)

Ray Shell and Dona Kroll (Phto: Pamela Raith)

Life’s buffets


St James Theatre, London, Tuesday 30th July, 2013

Theatre Royal Bath’s production of Richard Greenberg’s play is enjoying its transfer to the capital – or rather, I should say, the audiences are enjoying it.   This is a cracking production and, try as I might, I cannot find fault with it.  It’s well on course to being my favourite play of the year – quite the accolade, I’m sure you’ll agree!

The plot concerns a mother and daughter who, along with their maid, live across the lake from a resort in the Catskills (It is from this resort that the play takes its title: an ‘American plan’ means the same as ‘full board’ in English money).   They are joined by a young man with whom the daughter is smitten.  Mother has reservations: daughter’s mental stability has led to problems in the past.  Add to this the fact that the young man is not entirely what he pretends, and the scene is set for an engaging drama, along the lines of a Tennessee Williams, albeit transplanted to a more northerly location and handled with a lighter touch.

Diana Quick rules the roost as the mother, Eva, an elegant Jewish momma with a sharp Germanic accent and sharper acuity.  She operates almost entirely in the realm of subtext and invites other characters to do the same.  It’s a very arch, very funny performance and Quick is matched by the rest of this splendid ensemble.  Emily Taaffe is electrifying as Eva’s daughter Lili – at first, the archetypal bored teen, seeking distraction in her imagination but we soon realise there is something else at work here.  Lili’s tall tales lead to problems for handsome Nicky’s relationship with a girl from the resort, and soon he and Lili are ‘involved’.  Luke Allen-Gale is just about perfect as the charismatic and opportunistic Nicky, exuding charm and apparent decency, tackling the tidal changes of Nicky’s fortunes and emotions without losing our goodwill – in fact, such is the quality of every performer, we go along with everything the characters resort to.  As maid Olivia, Dona Croll is quietly long-suffering in a good-humoured way, dignified and with an understated sardonicism that lifts the characterisation out of the stereotype.  Her relationship with Lili has a touch of the Nurse with Juliet; the script has more than a few literary or classical allusions, amid all the coercions and negotiations.

In the second half, a fifth character arrives in the form of Gil (Mark Edel-Hunt); of course Gil is not what he appears and his arrival sets the plot alight and forces Eva to bring all her subtextual skills and manipulations to the fore as she manages the new situation. The intelligence of the writing means the audience is right there with her, reading between the lines and revelling in the delicious irony.

Director David Grindley’s assured handling of the material allows the actors to be subtle, tickling us with feathers rather than sledgehammers of melodrama.  Suitably, Jonathan Fensom’s set and costume designs are also subdued, hinting at place and period in an subtly emblematic manner.

All in all, The American Plan is a feast, an all-you-can-eat theatrical buffet, more than satisfying and very, very tasty.


Luke Allen-Gale and Emily Taaffe