Tag Archives: Giles Croft

Golden Oldies

FOREVER YOUNG

Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 11th February, 2015

 

Set in the common room of a retirement home, this musical comedy adapted from the German original, has a cast of elderly characters, portrayed by much younger actors – a good thing: they move and act like old people but their singing voices retain the power of their comparative youth.

There is next to nothing in the way of plot and character development, and very little dialogue, come to think of it. Instead we spend a couple of hours in their company. There are periods of quiet, comic action and there are songs and plenty of them. In an eclectic song list that ranges from Joan Jett to Joan Baez, some lyrics take on additional significance. “The time to hesitate is through,” they sing during The Doors’ Light My Fire. Indeed.

The residents are patronised and coerced by Sister George (Georgina White) and here lies most of the show’s inherent conflict. On the whole though, they seem to rub along quite nicely – at one point a slow-moving (not slow-motion) slapstick spat breaks out, providing some measured, perhaps a little too slow, clowning.

Dale Superville is in fine fettle, with some physical shtick and a strong singing voice. His falsetto version of R E S P E C T goes down well, but his sweet duet of I Got You Babe with his sweetheart (Clara Darcy) is a highlight. Darcy goes on to give a plaintive rendition of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit which becomes embittered and stirring when the others join in. In fact, the ensemble singing is delightful, harmonised to perfection. Stefan Bednarczyk (who co-adapted the piece with director Giles Croft) proves himself a versatile pianist, covering a vast range of musical styles. The excellent Rebecca Little hurls invective to comic effect and, when her prosthetic leg comes off, launches into a wistful Barbie Girl.  The nostalgia factor is strong in this one. When the elderly are asked to sing songs of the old days, and they come out with 90s pop hits, you know you’re getting on.

It’s quite bonkers when you think about it but the spectre of mortality is waiting in the wings. Live life, the oldies urge us, and don’t let the bastards grind you down. This gets a cheer from the audience, comprised mainly of white-haired people (refreshing to be among the youngest present!), but for all its feel-good fun, it’s not as funny as it thinks it is. Perhaps something was lost in translation and the European humour doesn’t travel. The first half is too long and some business is drawn out too far. We don’t get to hear John Elkington’s Imagine after three or four false starts – a pity; he is in great voice (when he’s not falling off the stage or breaking wind).

It’s a pleasant couple of hours but it’s a packet of biscuits rather than a meal.

Tim Frater and John Elkington (Photo: Robert Day)

Tim Frater and John Elkington (Photo: Robert Day)

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Strings Attached

THE KITE RUNNER

The REP, Birmingham, Monday 22nd September, 2014

Playwright Matthew Spangler’s excellent adaptation of the bestselling novel by Khaled Hosseini is an electrifying piece of storytelling. Directed by Giles Croft, this is the story of two Afghan boys, one the servant to the other, who grow up together in Kabul. The actors Ben Turner and Andrei Costin run around like kids, shooting at each other with their fingers in a very Blood Brothers kind of way – except, having had the same wet nurse, these two are more like Breast-milk Brothers until events, personal and political conspire to tear them apart.

Turner narrates as Amir and is never short of captivating. Amir makes mistakes and has to live with the consequences of those mistakes; Turner is so engaging, Amir’s motivation is always understandable. His guilt-ridden rejection of his friend is perfectly human.

Amir’s dad Baba (Emilio Doorgasingh) is a domineering figure – this is a father/son tale as much as one of friendship and betrayal. Doorgasingh brings out the different facets of this character – there is nobility, vulnerability and love in this man. The rest of the ensemble is also very strong. Nicholas Karimi’s sociopath Assef grows from scary bully to scary warlord. Antony Bunsee brings dignity as General Taheri – it all plays out on an evocative set by Barney George, where the backdrop suggests both fence posts and skyscrapers. Charles Balfour’s lighting signifies changes of time, place and mood, with projections by William Simpson suggesting Afghani and/or Muslim designs, as well as kites and sky.  A musician (Hanif Khan) remains onstage throughout, providing a percussive soundtrack to the action and the emotional life of the tale.

Giles Croft choreographs his cast, blending naturalistic and non-naturalistic techniques to the service of the story. But it is the intensity and appeal of the narrator that keep us engaged throughout, thanks to the powerful and magnetic Ben Turner. This is narrative theatre at its finest, absorbing, affecting and thoroughly entertaining.

Ben Turner and Andrei Costin.  Photo: Andrew Day.

Ben Turner and Andrei Costin. Photo: Andrew Day.