Tag Archives: Emma Barton

The Boss


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 17th March, 2015


The National Theatre’s hit production reaches Wolverhampton for the final week of its tour and the energy levels show no signs of flagging. The emphasis is on laughs and plenty of them in this non-stop cavalcade of comedy in the old-fashioned way, right down to the comic asides that keep us in on the action.

Francis Henshall (Gavin Spokes) has been kicked out of his skiffle band but finds employment as a general factotum to not one but two unsavoury characters in the form of Roscoe Crabbe (really his own twin sister, impersonating her late brother!) and the boyfriend of Roscoe’s twin sister (and also his murderer) Stanley Stubbers. Add to the mix, arranged marriage, large sums of money and a shedload of slapstick, and the stage is set for a riotous couple of hours. It’s farce. It’s commedia dell’arte. It’s seaside postcards and Carry On.

It’s brilliant.

Spokes heads an ebullient cast. The comic timing is flawless. As hapless Henshall, Spokes throws himself into the role, literally – he even beats himself up. But, despite the title, this is not a One Man show. Shaun Williamson is superb as long-suffering patriarch, Charlie ‘the Duck’ Clench, with Jasmyn Banks hilarious as his melodramatically thick daughter, Pauline. A perfectly ridiculous Edward Hancock struts and postures around as wannabe actor Alan Dangle and David Verrey is good value as his lawyer father, Harry Dangle. The two guvnors, Alicia Davies and Patrick Warner, are equally preposterous in their characterisations – this is not a show about nuance. Characters are caricatures at the service of the plot and it’s utterly refreshing to see something so old-school working so well.

Emma Barton’s Dolly brings to mind a Joe Orton creation – in fact, Richard Bean’s wonderful script mines the traditions of British humour from the past three or four centuries. I particularly enjoyed Derek Elroy’s cheery old lag Lloyd Boateng but geriatric waiter Alfie (Michael Dylan) almost steals the show. It is Gavin Spokes who drives the engine, adlibbing with audience members and clearly still enjoying himself after all this time on the road.

Scene changes are covered by skiffle band The Craze (not the Krays, as I thought when I first heard them) but the interludes become increasingly bizarre as the show goes on. We are treated to a xylophone solo and later, someone plays an array of rubber-headed horns. It all adds to the heightened atmosphere of a piece that revels in contrivance and artificiality.

You don’t need to know the play’s heritage (although it’s detailed in the programme) to be able to laugh your face off at this relentlessly funny production. An absolute delight from start to finish.

one man

Bad Medicine

Malvern Theatres, Tuesday 3rd April, 2012

I remember Richard Gordon’s Doctor books with affection, along with the films starring Dirk Bogarde and the TV sitcom with Robin Nedwell and Barry Evans. The stories are forerunners of Men Behaving Badly and The Inbetweeners , involving as they do men striking out on their own and trying to fit in to a hierarchical society.

What could have been a pleasant, fairly innocuous evening, a chance to look back, to reflect on how humour has and hasn’t changed in sixty years – and by extension, how society has and hasn’t changed – was ruined for me by the casting of comedian and ‘personality’ Joe Pasquale in one of the central roles. It’s like someone has dropped a baked potato in your trifle.

He kickstarts proceedings with an unnecessary warm-up in which he ingratiates himself with some of the less discerning members of the audience, and then patronises us with a rambling spot of exposition. In a rare moment of self-awareness he invites us to suspend our disbelief and accept he is portraying a medical student. Yes, Joe; we’ve been to the theatre before. We know how it works.

Suspend your disbelief from the highest bough, but you can’t get over the fact that Pasquale is too bloody old. Even though his character has been lingering at medical school for twelve years that would put him in his early thirties. But even if you let that slide – one can’t help one’s age, I suppose – the man makes no attempt at characterisation. He delivers his somewhat plummy dialogue in that distinctive high-pitched mewling voice of his with no concession to the accent or social status of the part. “He went to one of those posh schools” claims one of the others. Really? It must have been closed that day. This role calls for a Leslie Phillips but we get Mr Punch instead.

Harder to swallow and impossible to stomach is his kissing and canoodling of his French girlfriend Vera (a stunningly beautiful Emma Barton). It is quite revolting to behold. I begin to suspect that this production is something of a vanity project for Pasquale. If it isn’t, someone somewhere clearly wishes to brown-nose him. It is baffling.

With Vera French and Allison McKenzie’s ebullient Ozzy an Australian, the play gives us interesting presentations of women and sexual politics. Because these two are foreigners, they are sexually liberated and liberal with it. The English women – the Matron (a stone-faced Gay Soper) and her nurse niece Janet (Rachel Baynton)- are repressed and oppressive. Marriage must come before anyone else does.

Bursting into the guys’ flat is Sir Lancelot Sprat played by distinguished and respected actor Robert Powell. I know. Imagine Tom Jones with Jesus’s eyes. He raises the tone every time he appears but even he struggles to keep this balloon in the air. The contrivances of the plot, restricted as they are to a single set, are all too apparent. All of a sudden, the characters decide to rehearse a Victorian melodrama for a Christmas do. And so we get twenty minutes of extraneous nonsense with Pasquale “directing” and playing the moustache-twirling villain. Never mind my disbelief, my patience was being sorely tested.

As leading man, Simon Sparrow, sweet-faced Phillip Langhorne is very effective at portraying nervous embarrassment and a keenness to please his uncle Lancelot. Flatmate John (Tom Butcher – a younger, more palatable Nigel Havers) adds to the fun, aided and abetted by corpulent Peter Dunwell as obliging hospital porter, Bromley. This tug-your-forelock working class bloke tells us horror stories, albeit humorous ones, of what conditions were like before the NHS was founded. A chilling vision of the near future, perhaps… The play is a microcosm of the class system and would hold together were it not for the miscasting of Pasquale. I suppose he is a ‘name’ to draw in the crowds. Pasquale fans expect to see him being Pasquale. He should stick to pantomime. I certainly didn’t need him to step out in front of the curtain between scenes to fill us in with more exposition. That time has passed should be apparent in the writing. We should be able to work it out for ourselves with no trouble. I felt patronised and ready to put someone in the hospital.

All in all, the whole cast tackle this old-fashioned material very well – apart from one unsightly lump that needs to be excised.

Next up: King Lear with Mr Blobby.