The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 11th April, 2018
This new production from Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal rocks into town with an irresistible swagger. Composer Hannah Peel’s score is designed to quicken the heartbeat, the drum-heavy arrangements tribal and exciting like jungle drums. Our jungle is the criminal underworld of 1950s Brighton, where rival gangs of protectionists rule the streets.
Leading one such gang is Pinkie – a perky performance by Jacob James Beswick. His Pinkie is cocksure, tough and volatile, who sees his youth (aged 17) as no handicap. In fact, his lack of years is a plus: he can’t be hanged for his crimes. He also has a cavalier attitude to eternal damnation – planning to play the Catholic get-out-of-Hell-free card by repenting in the last minute of his life. Superstition is a recurring theme, be it church-going or dabbling with a Ouija board.
Pinkie promise: Jacob James Beswick (Photo: Karl Andrew Photography)
Sarah Middleton is the perfect contrast to Pinkie in every way as Rose, the girl whose affections Pinkie waylays in order to stop her from going to the cops with what she knows. Rose is blinded, not by the vitriol Pinkie waves in her face, but by his attentions, proving herself fiercely loyal albeit misguided. A tight ensemble plays the supporting roles, notable among them is the versatile Angela Bain, as Spicer, a priest, and others. Jennifer Jackson, appearing as the ultra-cool rival boss Colleoni, is responsible for the stylised movements – the violence is savagely choreographed – and Jackson performs a sinuous bit of expressive jazz dancing to accompany the turmoil of the lead characters.
Dominating the action is Ida, seeking justice for a murdered beau. Gloria Onitiri is thoroughly magnificent. Funny, determined, passionate and with a dirty laugh, she also treats us to her rich singing voice in a couple of cool torch songs.
The show is ineffably cool in the way that bad boys are cool. But we are definitely on Ida’s side, as the moral compass of the story.
Director Esther Richardson keeps things slick and sharp as a razor, employing the ensemble as stagehands to keep the action continuous and the transitions seamless. Bryony Lavery’s splendid adaptation of the Graham Greene novel delivers the feel of the era, the argot of the underworld, while Sara Perks’s all-purpose set evokes Brighton Pier chief among the other locations. There is a Kneehigh feel to proceedings with the stylisation, the onstage musicians and so on – and there’s nothing wrong in that. Quite the contrary!
Gripping, entertaining and inventively presented, this is one stick of rock that has QUALITY running all the way through it.
The mighty Gloria Onitiri as Ida (Photo: Karl Andre Photography)
Leave a comment | tags: Angela Bain, Brighton Rock, Bryony Lavery, Esther Richardson, Gloria Onitiri, Graham Greene, Hannah Peel, Jacob James Beswick, Jennifer Jackson, Pilot Theatre, review, Sara Perks, Sarah Middleton, The REP Birmingham, York Theatre Royal | posted in Review
THE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 5th December, 2017
Debbie Isitt’s adaptation of Dodie Smith’s 1956 popular classic provides a perfect package of festive fun as the REP’s Christmas show for this year. Keeping a 1950s aesthetic in its clothes, furniture and voices, Tessa Walker’s production resonates with innocence and charm in its storytelling and theatrical brio in its execution. Of course, we wonder how so many puppies are going to be represented; Walker and her team of talented puppeteers do not disappoint. Jimmy Grimes has designed some economic but expressive dog and cat characters: an opening sequence of various people walking their various breeds of dog gets the show off to a delightful start.
Often, the plot calls for the puppets to hold the stage on their own. Oliver Wellington’s Pongo and Emma Thornett’s Missis make an appealing pair of protagonists, while their human counterparts, Morgan Philpott and Nadi Kemp-Sayfi, make their potentially bland roles come alive with humorous flair and earnestness. Lakesha Cammock brings pathos and bravery to the role of Perdita, while Mei Mac’s operating of the Persian Cat and the plucky tabby Tibbs brings diversity to this canine-dominated world. Not only do the puppeteers demonstrate skill with the animation of their characters, they also give impressive vocal characterisations. Quickly we overlook the artifice and begin to care for the creatures and their plight.
Of the humans, the baddies attract the most attention. Jo Servi is the least overtly wicked as Cruella De Vil’s husband Horace, indulging and enabling her worst excesses, almost humanising her. Luke Murphy is a lot of fun as dozy bad ’un, Saul Baddun, while Lewis Griffin shines as his energetic brother Jasper Baddun, with some hilarious physical comedy and moves that make him appear to be made of elastic, or perhaps he’s really a puppet himself!
Storming the stage in the iconic role of the vile and villainous Cruella is the magnificent Gloria Onitiri, parading around like a spoilt diva, like Ru Paul in his worst mood. Onitiri is a scream – her wild-eyed driving is a maniacal treat. But the production does not shy away from the story’s nasty side. The horrors and evils of the fur trade loom large – Dodie Smith was ahead of her time in her criticism of this barbaric practice – and so while we revel in Onitiri’s performance, we recognise Cruella for what she is.
Tessa Walker maintains a fast pace, giving us laughs and tension through a myriad of inventive touches, aided by Jamie Vartan’s multi-level set, giving us cars driving off into the distance, model buildings. A muted colour palette, augmented by Simon Bond’s beautiful lighting, gives the set a watercolour feel, like picture-book illustrations, with the only splash of colour the red lining of Cruella’s coat.
James Frewer’s original music, played live by onstage musicians and members of the cast, underscores the action with jazz-informed pieces, adding to the cartoonish feel, and there are a few good songs to heighten the mood and add to the fun.
All in all, it’s the REP’s best Christmas show for years. It runs until January 13th – you’d be barking to miss it.
Dogged determination: Gloria Onitiri as Cruella de Vil (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)
Leave a comment | tags: Debbie Isitt, Dodie Smith, Emma Thornett, Gloria Onitiri, James Frewer, Jamie Vartan, Jimmy Grimes, Jo servi, Lakesha Cammock, Lewis Griffin, Luke Murphy, Mei Mac, Morgan Philpott, Nadi Kemp-Sayfi, Oliver Wellington, review, Simon Bond, Tessa Walker, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, The REP Birmingham | posted in Theatre Review