Tag Archives: Finty Williams

Memory Lane


The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 23rd May 2023

Neil Gaiman’s gothic fantasy novel is brought to the stage in this hugely impressive adaptation by Joel Horwood.  When a man returns to his childhood home for a funeral, he visits the local pond, which he used to call an ocean; here, he encounters a former neighbour and memories of a wonderful if traumatic period in his life are evoked – and re-enacted for our benefit!

Keir Ogilvy makes an appealing lead as the twelve-year-old Boy, matched in child-like energy by Millie Hikasa’s Lettie.  Lettie is a peculiar child with arcane abilities, but this is no surprise given the other members of her household, mother Ginnie (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) and grandmother Old Mrs Hempstock – Finty Williams in casually powerful form.  Thus we get the virgin-mother-crone trinity common to stories about witches…

Laurie Ogden is a well-observed annoying little sister, while Trevor Fox is a shouty Dad, taken in by new lodger, the ubiquitous Ursula, played by EastEnders’ supreme villain Charlie Brooks, here bringing Janine Butcher to the next level.  Brooks is delicious, deranged in her plausibility, popping up all over the set in a sleight of theatrical hand.  Director Katy Rudd keeps the artifice of the production to the fore and the special effects are all the more special and effective because of this approach.  A giant puppet stalks the stage.  Billowing swathes of fabric transform people.  An ensemble clad in black perform scene transitions as well as depicting some of the more exotic creatures, using physical theatre elevated by Samuel Wyer’s costumes.  It all flows slickly and smoothly, and binds us in its spell.  You can’t tear your eyes away.

There are moments of mystery, fantastic events, and more than a hint of horror in this thrilling, captivating story, underscored by Jherek Bischoff’s atmospheric score.  It’s a bit gruesome and a bit disturbing (e.g. the bathroom scenes!) but it’s also funny and touching.  This is storytelling on a grand scale, reminding us of the unreliability of memory.  Are the Boy’s recollections accurate or are they masking something more mundane but just as horrifying?  Are powerful forces at work or are repressed memories colouring his experiences?

A mind-blowing production of a story that resonates like ripples on the surface of the pond.  Magical!

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Janine pushes Barry off a cliff — oops, wrong caption. Charlie Brooks looks down on Keir Ogilvy

(Photo: c. Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)

The Truth Hurts


The REP, Birmingham, Monday 3rd November, 2014 

The play begins in darkness.  There is a gunshot and a woman screams..

But the playwright, J B Priestley is playing a trick: the lights come up on a group of women listening to a radio play.  They are soon joined by a dapper bunch of gentlemen in evening dress and a discussion of the broadcast and its theme of truth-telling triggers a series of revelations that tears the group of friends apart.

The play must have been more shocking in its day – we have become somewhat inured to infidelities and all the other transgressions to which the characters lay claim.  Probably too, a 1930s audience might have felt more inclined to like these people but I struggle to find anything likeable in any of them.  They really are a deplorable lot – apart from Olwen Peel (Kim Thomson) but even she has her dark surprises.

Michael Praed seems the most at home in the period setting as debonair cad and bounder Charles Stanton.  His throwaway delivery of sarcastic lines gets plenty of laughs.  Kim Thomson is also excellent as the lovelorn spinster, ably supported by Finty Williams as Freda and by Colin Buchanan as her husband Robert.  I couldn’t take to Gordon (Matt Milne), I’m afraid, whose characterisation seems like a piece gone astray from a different jigsaw puzzle – he doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest.

Gary McCann’s costumes are gorgeous and his sturdy and grandiose art deco set conveys wealth and stability in contrast with the human frailties that are exposed with every passing minute.  It is though a rather static affair, a wordy play where empathy for the characters is replaced by admiration for Priestley’s skills as he piles on disclosure after disclosure to an almost ludicrous degree, before delivering a coup de theatre by sending us all back to start – except this time we are armed with insights and every line is pregnant with dramatic irony.  A twist of fate averts the trigger and the devastating discussion doesn’t happen…

Honesty is not the best policy, the play says.  Lies maintain the veneer of civilisation and keep us ticking along sociably enough.  Perhaps that’s the most immoral revelation of all.

Kim Thomson and Michael Praed (Photo: Robert Day)

Kim Thomson and Michael Praed (Photo: Robert Day)

Friends and Lavas

Malvern Theatres, Tuesday 7th August, 2012

This little-known Noel Coward piece was stashed away for decades because of its basis in real-life marital infidelities and so, to protect the guilty, has not seen the light of day until now.

The setting is the exotic Mount Fumfumbolo, which is a volcano and not a puppet in a kids’ TV show. On the side of this volcano, overlooking her banana plantations, widow Adela (Jenny Seagrove) enjoys solitude, the occasional company of her friends and a bit of a fling with louche Lothario, Guy (Jason Durr). He’s been chasing around the mountain but she, although in love with him, will not bump nasties with a married man. She keeps the lid on her simmering desire, you see, bit like the dormant volcano of the title.

Guy’s Mrs shows up and outbitches everyone at a tense little cocktail party. Were it not for the sultry, almost Tennessee Williams setting, this would be a run-of-the-mill suburban drama, with inferior epigrams and an unremarkable premise. However, in the second half, when the volcano blows its stack, the characters are thrown into physical as well as emotional crisis. Guy is unfaithful but not with Adela after all – he shacks up with young bride Ellen (Perdita Avery) in a shack, to take shelter from the eruption. Scratchy wife Melissa (Dawn Steele) rises above it all with some superior archness. Everyone seems to go back to England and poor Adela is left to reconstruct her homestead (three busted light bulbs and some overturned furniture) and finally ‘enjoy’ her solitude and her bananas. It is the calm after the storm, the aftermath of the outpouring.

Jenny Seagrove is elegant and likeable as Adela. Jason Durr is tanned and smarmy as Guy. I particularly liked Finty Williams as Grizelda. Most Cowardesque of the bunch is Robin Sebastian as her husband Robin. The cast keep on the right side of the ‘teddibly teddibly’ kind of delivery and Dawn Steele oozes arrogance and evil as uberbitch Melissa. Roy Marsden’s direction keeps the somewhat outmoded dialogue sparking along, although when the volcano blows, I would rather see a blackout than the dangling gantry of lights and the plastic plants being strewn across the stage.

It is a pity this play didn’t do the business when it was written in the 1950s. Being shoved in a drawer and forgotten denied it its initial impact and robbed it of becoming a theatrical milestone for its frank discussions of sex, morality and sexual politics. Now its time has passed. The world has moved on in more ways than one; the play is something of a curiosity rather than the cutting-edge discussion-provoker it should have been.