Tag Archives: Francesca Mills

Winning by a Nose

CYRANO

New Vic Theatre, Tuesday 7th February, 2017

 

The New Vic has teamed up with Northern Broadsides for this new version of the classic romance by Edmond Rostand.  Writer Deborah McAndrew cleverly keeps the play as a verse drama – it’s not just rhyming couplets and doggerel; it’s a technical achievement in itself, let alone its faithfulness to the original while having an altogether fresh feel.  It’s her best work yet.

Director Conrad Nelson blends naturalism with more heightened moments – the changes in pace and tone of each act are handled to perfection.  We laugh, we love, we cry – in all the right places.  Nelson has also composed the score, performed by the ensemble of actor-musicians, that adds to the period feel and the emotional impact of each act.  Led for the most part by Michael Hugo’s Ligniere, the music casts its spell as much as the story and the characters.  Hugo is such an appealing presence as the minstrel – I also enjoy his ham actor Monfleury, heckled off the stage by the eponymous Cyrano.

Christian Edwards in the title role is outstanding – and I don’t just mean his massive conk.  He is everything you could wish for in a Cyrano de Bergerac.  Swaggering, witty, charming, brave and selfless.  Edwards plays it with panache, literally and figuratively.  He is supported by a team of excellent players: Sharon Singh is an elegant Roxane, headstrong and independent – worthy of Cyrano’s devotion.  Adam Barlow is the handsome but dim Christian, the third point of the love triangle – he contrasts nicely with Cyrano’s erudition and we can’t help but see how sweet he is.  Andy Cryer’s De Guiche changes our opinion – we see there’s more to him than the figure lampooned by Ligniere.  Paul Barnhill’s poetic pastry-purveyor Ragueneau, Perry Moore’s prancing ponce Valvert, Jessica Dyas’s sardonic Mrs Ragueneau, Francesca Mills’s busybody Sister Martha, all help to populate the story with a wide range of characters, different facets of humanity – Rostand has respect for all walks of life and yet he makes Cyrano seem more human than all of us.  Especially touching is Andrew Whitehead’s Le Bret, his heart breaking to see Cyrano’s decline.

Lis Evans’s design is stylish – the stage floor is beautiful – and the New Vic’s costume department has pulled out all the stops for the 17th century setting.  Daniella Beattie’s lighting emulates the soft glow of the chandeliers with the occasional shaft of brightness – like Cyrano’s wit, enlivening the gloom.

Cyrano’s panache tickles the funny bone before plunging into your heart.  I know it’s only February but already I think I might have seen the show of the year.

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“You don’t have to put on the red light…” Cyrano (Christian Edwards) and Roxane (Sharon Singh)  Photo: Steve Bould

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Gogol box

THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR

The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 23rd March, 2016

 

Nikolai Gogol’s comedy, a satire of Czarist Russia, is brought to exuberant life in this sparkling adaptation by David Harrower.  Director Roxana Silbert has gathered the most inclusive company I’ve ever seen: disabled and non-disabled actors, sign language users and interpreters, all appear side-by-side in this fast-moving, frenetic and farcical story of misunderstanding and mistaken identity.   Everyone is in costume and a character in their own right, rather than segregating interpreters in a spotlight at the side of the stage.  In fact, the expressive nature of signing lends itself very well to the heightened, exaggerated style of comic performance needed to keep Gogol’s balloons in the air.

Much of the show’s comic energy comes from one man.  David Carlyle is the manic Mayor of the little town expecting a visit from a government official.  Carlyle must be knackered by the interval – he’s certainly exhausting to watch and very, very funny.  His wife and daughter (Kiruna Stamell and Francesca Mills respectively) match him in terms of larger-than-life characterisations.  Stamell’s pretentious use of French words and phrases is a delight, as is Mills’s immature frustration.  Stephen Collins and Rachel Denning form a funny, Little and Large double act as Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky careering around the stage with a flair for physical comedy.  Sophie Stone amuses as the less-than-honest Postmaster and I particularly like Michael Keane’s starving servant Osip, whose master, the conniving opportunist Khlestakov is marvellously portrayed by Robin Morrissey.  Gogol lets us in on the joke from the off, allowing us to see Khlestakov’s cogs turning.  Jean St Clair’s Judge Lyapkin-Tyapkin is elegantly expressive and none-the-less funny – In fact, the entire company is unflagging in its efforts to maintain the show’s fast pace.  The laughs keep coming.

Ti Green’s skeletal set serves as all locations.  Much fun is made with the revolving door and I love the running joke of the lift with its muzak and prerecorded voice.  Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting adds to the humour, with some sharp changes to highlight the characters’ frantic asides.

Years ago I saw a production of this play that fell completely flat.  I am pleased to say this smart and snappy show has exorcised the ghost of that failure.  The playing is broad but detailed – Silbert overlooks nothing in order to wring as many laughs as possible from the situation, the script and her hard-working, talented cast.

The play exposes human foibles in all ranks of society.  Man is essentially corruptible, Gogol points out, putting us all in the same box.  Surely it can’t be relevant to us today.  Can it?  I rather believe it is.

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Master and servant: Robin Morrissey and Michael Keane (Photo: Robert Day)

 


Larger Than Life

SEE HOW THEY RUN

Derby Theatre, Monday 7th April, 2014 

 

“There are no small parts, only small actors.”  That cliché refers to mentality rather than stature.  Massive star Warwick Davies knows there are lots of small, as in short, actors who are not getting the chance to display their talents outside of Snow White pantomimes and Gringott’s bank.  Davies set up the Reduced Height theatre company to provide just that chance and their first production, Philip King’s 1944 farce gets them off to a running start.

The play is old-fashioned but wearing well. Directed by the legendary Eric Potts, the emphasis is on getting as many laughs as possible from the material.

Davies is Reverend Lionel Tapp and shows a nice line in comic reactions, spit takes and double takes, and is ably supported by his troupe of character actors. Rachel Denning swans around as the vicar’s glamorous wife;  Francesca Papagno is an absolute hoot as local frump and busybody Miss Skillon who gets pissed as a fart and stowed in a cupboard.  Phil Holden is great fun as actor-turned-soldier Clive, and Jon Key is suitably indignant as scandalised as fuddy-duddy bishop Uncle Dudley.

It’s all played in a heightened (so to speak) style with larger-than-life characterisations.  There’s lots and lots of running around, some of it gratuitous, in this tale of disguise and mistaken identity.  Raymond Griffiths adds a touch of menace as an escaped POW with a cod German accent, Jamie John brings camp and confusion as a visiting vicar, but the stand-out of the night is Francesca Mills as Ida, the cheeky maid, all gorblimey and eye-rolling, complete with a Barbara Windsor cackle.

It’s fast paced – it has to be or it would die on its arse – and gloriously silly fun, good-natured and refreshingly uncynical in its contrivances. Eric Potts works his players hard, piling on the comic business, making use of their physicality without mockery.  There is something extra funny in seeing their little legs run, and it’s funny in another sense how their lack of height adds a dimension to the comedy.

I hope they’ll tackle a straight drama next.  This production takes giant strides away from the notion of short actors as novelty acts.

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