Tag Archives: Faye Castelow

Cavalier Attitudes


The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 12th October, 2016


Loveday Ingram’s exuberant production of Aphra Behn’s raucous comedy is almost a reversal of The Taming of the Shrew, in which a wayward character (here, the titular Rover) is brought to heel by the machinations of another (the wily Hellena).  In the Shakespeare, the shrew is completely cowed and rendered submissive; here it is more of a meeting of minds, a matching of appetites.  Things are on a more egalitarian footing from the off – in fact, it is the females who rule the roost, in terms of plot devices and spirit.

Joseph Millson is marvellous in the title role.  His Willmore is a swaggering braggart with ratty pirate hair and an Adam Ant jacket.  He exudes bluster and charm in equal measure.  He is outrageous and irresistible.  Faye Castelow’s Hellena is adorably lively and witty.  As her sister Valeria, Emma Noakes is a livewire, while other sister Florinda (Frances McNamee) is more elegant but none the less funny.  Patrick Robinson is suitably noble and upright as good guy Belville, but things take a darker turn when the gauche Blunt (Leander Deeny), gulled by a prostitute, seeks violent revenge on any female who happens across his path.  Even in these scenes, Ingram keeps the energy levels high – this is a show performed with unrelenting verve and brio.  The cast are clearly enjoying themselves immensely, transmitting that sense of fun to us, the lucky audience.

The carnival atmosphere is propagated and maintained by the superlative music, composed by Grant Olding, and performed live on stage throughout the action.  The Latin rhythms are infectious, the Spanish guitar, the muted trumpet – every note is delicious.  If the RSC doesn’t release a CD, they’re missing a trick.

A highlight for me is a flamenco-off between Dons Pedro and Antonio (Gyuri Sarossy and Jamie Wilkes, respectively); another is Alexandra Gilbreath’s melodramatic courtesan, holding Willmore at gunpoint – there is a wealth of things to enjoy in all the comings and goings, the disguises, the misunderstandings and the mistaken identities.  It’s fast-paced, rowdy, riotous fun, performed with gusto and charisma by a vivacious ensemble.  Ultimately, Millson dominates with his colossal presence, but we love him for it and egg him on.  Willmore is flawed, at the mercy of his appetites – indeed, the men are victims of their own desires – but Behn celebrates human frailties without moralising.  She was way ahead of her time.


Wild Rover: Joseph Millson as Willmore (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)



A Devil of a Time


The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Saturday 23rd August, 2014

John Webster’s revenge tragedy is given the Maria Aberg treatment in this brash production. I say ‘treatment’ because many of the ideas are familiar from a previous production (her King John). There is a contemporary setting, contemporary costumes and too much music – loud, pulsating music to which the cast perform a variation on the Macarena.   Chiefly though is the re-use of the gimmick of giving the villain a sex-change. Here Flaminio is a woman, albeit one that dresses in a masculine style. The idea, I’m supposing, is that by dressing and behaving as a man, Flaminio avoids the usual fate of women. In this garb, she also perpetuates that way of treating women (and indeed there are women in society today who uphold the anti-feminist agenda), but she is nothing more than an evil, murderous lesbian. In short, the sex swap doesn’t work. I wanted to enjoy Laura Elphinstone’s somewhat Ant-and-Dec-esque performance but was too irked by the director’s choice.

            The music is annoying – oh, goody: another party scene! – and the contemporary clothing does not help distinguish characters. Cardinal Monticelso (the marvellous David Rintoul – I could listen to him read till receipts) is undermined by his Butlins red coat. Simon Scardifield’s Francisco sports a Frank Spencer beret.  And why cast the mighty Tony Jayawardena and give him nothing to do?

            Leading lady Vittoria (Kirsty Bushell) is a fading party girl who must be punished for living it up and giving men what they want. Ratty wigs and crumpled tutus do her no favours. In the court scene, she comes as Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, but the tone of this key scene is uneven – Bushell gives us one minute the victim, at the mercy of male attitudes and double standards, and the next she is offhandedly sarcastic. It doesn’t quite gel.  Occasionally, the power of Webster’s drama comes through.  Faye Castelow’s Isabella has a powerful scene and a messy death – this is how Webster should be done!

            I would have preferred period costume. Let the themes and argument of the play speak for itself, rather than bending and shaping it to fit some agenda that obfuscates the action. “Take my sword,” says someone, handing over a flick-knife. No.

Kirsty Bushell

Kirsty Bushell

Highly Strung


New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Friday 22nd February, 2013

Amanda Whittington’s new play concerns the story of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in the UK.  It is perhaps this status as the last woman to pay the death penalty that adds to Ellis’s notoriety and allure.  Even in the dark days of the 1950s, her sentence was considered an injustice but all the protests and campaigns proved to be in vain.

The play focuses on the last few years of Ellis’s shortened life, her work in a ‘gentlemen’s club’ and her relationship with David Blakely – although in Whittington’s version of events, we do not see the man himself.  He is a shadow, an off-stage presence, haunting Ellis as the detective inspector unravelling her story takes us back in time from the interrogation room to the club.  He, the detective, works as a narrator, linking scenes with information, and painting scenery with poetic details.  This works very well for the most part – we are caught up in a maelstrom, as Ellis was caught up, and there are moments when the action becomes surreal and nightmarish.

Jonathan Fensom’s design sets us in the world of the club.  Thick red carpet covers the stage with a central wooden parquet area – a dance floor.  Small tables with shaded lamps and chairs are moved around to denote different locations.  There is a trolley laden with drink.  A record player emitting scratchy Billie Holiday songs at various intervals.  Above all of this is suspended a huge square canopy of ruched fabric, and a glitterball.  The red dominates, a rich crimson, the colour of blood perhaps, the colour of passion.

A pall of smoke floats across the auditorium.  This is the smoke-filled world of the club back when people were allowed to suck on cigarettes indoors.  But the smoke keeps coming.  It adds a hazy look to every scene, a sort of mists-of-time atmosphere, but I question its omnipresence.  It became something of a distraction in the end and anything that induces an audience to cough more than they might usually, cannot be a good thing.  I would pull the plug on the smoke machine early on, and only give it a blast in the more dreamlike sequences.

Whittington’s dialogue is sharp and snappy.  The characters fire off quips like machine-gun fire and here I have a bit of an issue with the director’s pacing of scenes.  When Ellis is at her most neurotic, there is very little difference to the moments when she’s engaging in banter with her workmates.  Greater contrast between these scenes would make for a more effective whole.  Faye Castelow plays Ellis as a tightly wound spring, a chattering, fragile thing but the speed of delivery of group dialogue makes everyone seem highly strung.  It gets a bit wearing after a while.

Ellis is not a sympathetic creature.  We know all along she’s for the drop – the play is instantly laden with an air of doom.  But I didn’t feel any tugging at my heartstrings or any particular appeal to my sense of moral outrage at this poor woman’s fate.  I found myself thinking of Rihanna and Chris Brown and the lack of understanding about why someone stays in an abusive and violent relationship.

The cast is excellent.  They reproduce the London accents of the day, helping to evoke the sense of period.  The costumes are all in keeping and the music, distorted blasts of Billie Holiday (another doomed woman who went through the mill of love) unify the action and add emotive punch.  I enjoyed Maya Wasowicz as confident and chirpy Vickie Martin, and Katie West as dowdy charwoman Doris living on the edge of all this ‘glamour’.  Hilary Tones’s Sylvia Shaw, nightclub manageress, is worldly-wise and sanguine.  There is a hint of grubbiness beneath the elegance.  Jack Gale’s efficient inspector is the only male voice, a counterpoint to the constant barrage of badinage.

I found the sum of the parts rather wearing.  There are some excellent moments – scenes from the trial are a swirling eddy of questions and statements, and the hanging is simply but superbly evoked by the slamming of the record-player lid, followed by a blackout.  After that, the other characters drift on and off in an unfocussed moment, as fuzzy as the smoke that’s still pouring in.

This was the first night, and though the cast was operating like clockwork, I think director James Dacre needs to slow and stretch some of the scenes, as well as killing the smoke, in order to allow the piece to breathe.

thrill of love poster

No Socks, Please, We’re American

Malvern Theatres, Tuesday 10th April, 2012

Maureen Lipman appears in and directs this Neil Simon comedy from the early 1960s. Simon is a prolific writer often called the American Ayckbourn. I would say he is more of a diluted Woody Allen. He uses the patterns and rhythms of New York speech with a strong Yiddish influence. This kind of fast-talking, prone to hyperbole, sarcastic talk is very funny but, almost fifty years on, it has lost what edge it might have had. What we get instead is an amusing, comfortable evening at the theatre. It’s like watching an elderly pet cat being playful.

The plot concerns the first couple of weeks of married life of a young, up-and-coming lawyer and his wife. He, Paul, (a handsome Dominic Tighe) is a bit of a stuffed shirt, who expends a lot of energy ‘kvetching’ – he’s like Woody Allen played at the wrong r.p.m. I would have liked an increase in the speed of his delivery when he became more worked up, even at the expense of diction. He’s just a little too controlled all the time, even when he gets off his tits on scotch towards the end.

Faye Castelow is young wife Corrie and has something of the young Tracey Ullman about her. She is the yin to Paul’s yang but again I would have liked her a little more flighty and skittish, a little more Bohemian, to make the contrast between them all the sharper. This Corrie was a little one-note for me. At the end, when the roles are reversed and he is wigging out on the ledge outside the window of their penthouse flat, and she is taking charge of the situation, how far they have come (and I don’t mean up the five flights of stairs) could be made more apparent. He has loosened up and has actually been walking barefoot in the park, something his wife has been advocating all along. She has realised there is more to marriage than furnishing an apartment or running about with no shoes on. The curtain falls on him teetering on the high ledge with her calling to him, about to climb out and assist. Here, Simon gives us a metaphor for the precariousness of marriage. It’s a tightrope that both parties need to walk together if they are to avoid plummeting towards divorce. It’s an ending that manages to be heart-warming and downbeat at the same time.

Maureen Lipman plays Mrs Banks, Corrie’s mother. The stage lights up when she appears, to prove her talent at character-based and also physical comedy. Her exhausted entrances, having climbed the five flights (and a stoop!) to the apartment are hilarious but never over-the-top. Oliver Cotton is the dashing and exotic neighbour, Victor Velasco, and the play really comes to life when either of these two appear. Their scenes together are the highlights, deftly played, bringing the warmth and humanity of the characters to the fore. Their characters are more rounded, shaped by life experience. The younger couple have less to them, attractive and amusing though they are – they learn about themselves as the action progresses. It’s the difference between grown-ups and kids, I suppose.

It’s not so much a matter of going barefoot in the park – it’s more like revisiting a comfortable pair of slippers. But all in all, it’s an evening of gentle comedy that has aged well – unlike another revival from the same era I endured in this same venue exactly a week before!