Tag Archives: Gwen Taylor

This Charming Man

NIGHT MUST FALL

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 28th September, 2016

 

The Original Theatre company, purveyors of classic plays, now brings us Emlyn Williams’s 1935 thriller, in their solid and dependable – and entertaining! – fashion.  Directed by Luke Sheppard, the production is not short on tension and suspense, even if you know who the murderer is – or perhaps especially because of this knowledge.  Sheppard also brings out the humour of Williams’s script via an ensemble of superlative character actors.

Gwen Taylor stars as the irascible Mrs Bramson, a grumpy curmudgeon who has to pay people to spend time with her.  This includes her niece as well as the domestic staff.  Taylor brings energy to this hypochondriac harridan and we enjoy seeing her taken in when psychopathic Dan plays to her vanities.

Niamh McGrady is bookish niece Olivia, the voice of reason in the piece, although she is seduced by the dark side into acts of moral ambivalence.  Alasdair Buchan’s Hubert, a hapless suitor, is all plus fours and bluff bonhomie, while Daragh O’Malley’s Inspector Belsize has an easy powerfulness to his presence.  Anne Odeke is good fun as Nurse Libby in her brief appearances, while Melissa Vaughan’s housemaid Dora, a girl ‘in trouble’ thanks to the aforementioned psycho, is chirpily melodramatic.  Most enjoyable though is Mandi Symonds as housekeeper/cook Mrs Terence, an hilarious counterpart to Taylor’s old battle-ax.

It is Will Featherstone who commands the attention as the enigmatic and charming chancer, Dan who, having got Dora up the duff, insinuates himself into the household as a companion/carer for the old woman.  On the surface, Dan is a lively, funny presence but Olivia’s suspicions are aroused at once.  Featherstone gives us charm and an undercurrent of threat, breaking out into flashes of insanity and derangement.  It’s a compelling portrayal of a psychopathic character – pre-Hitchcock, it has to be noted – and also Williams’s script seems to be a precursor of the comedy of menace of Harold Pinter, with its naturalistic turns of phrase and its violent outbursts.

The production grips, amuses and thrills, showing the play still works like a charm and with its theme of our fascination with murder, it is still current, both admonishing the audience’s appetite for such subject matter and giving us exactly what we want.

'Night Must Fall' Tour

Will Featherstone as Dan (Photo: Alastair Muir)

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Chauffeur So Good

DRIVING MISS DAISY
Derby Theatre, Monday 19th November, 2012


Before it was an Oscar-winning film, this simple story of a fading Southern matron and her ageing black chauffeur was a play. This touring revival is a straightforward but stylishly presented production of Alfred Uhry’s script, containing two magnetic performances by Gwen Taylor as Miss Daisy and Don Warrington as Hoke. The third member of the cast is Ian Porter as Daisy’s son ‘Boolie’ – it is he who sets the plot in motion by recruiting Hoke when his mother proves she is no longer able to drive herself around.

At first, Hoke meets with resistance from the proud old woman – it is a week before she relents and allows him to take her to the Piggly Wiggly supermarket. After that initial outing, a slow thawing begins and in a series of scenes that dip into their lives over a period of twenty-odd years, we see the bond that has formed between the pair in their declining years. “I was never prejudiced” is Miss Daisy’s constant refrain, usually as a preface to some declaration about “They All” doing this or that.

She learns the error of her ways but it’s not a complete conversion – Uhry’s script keeps away from the saccharine and the mawkish, deftly depicting the war of wills between the characters with gentle humour and the occasionally touching moment. The play is set against the (projected) backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement – Miss Daisy and Hoke are kind of a microcosmic representation of this. The personal is political, after all.

Gwen Taylor plays Miss Daisy as strong but with increasing fragility. Don Warrington’s Hoke is sardonic, patient and as proud as his elderly employer. Ian Porter matches them for authenticity and characterisation. Director David Esdbjornson keeps transitions slick – the staging is simplistic with Wendall K Harrington’s projections clarifying locations and illustrating the wider context of the action.

It’s a charming and funny 90 minutes that touches your heartstrings rather than punching you in the guts. The world has come a long way since Martin Luther King told us about his dream, and still has a way to go yet, but for me the starkest aspect of the play is the physical and/or mental decline that awaits us (if we’re lucky!) and the importance of companionship along life’s road. This may sound depressing but like Hoke the chauffeur, this show will give you a lift.


Mane Event

THE BUTTERFLY LION
Curve, Leicester, Thursday 12th April 2012

Daniel Buckroyd’s new adaptation of a Michael Murpurgo novel took me by surprise. Initially, I found myself thinking of all the things it reminded me of. The Lion King is one – there is an African setting, the puppets bear a family resemblance, the music has African rhythms and there is even a Circle-of-Life type chorus. This story however, tells us life is not circular. Life is linear, a journey from birth to death. “Butterflies live very short lives,” is one of the opening lines, introducing the theme of mortality and foreshadowing what is to come.

The story has much in common with Murpurgo’s more famous piece, War Horse. A young boy forms a friendship with an animal that has ‘something wrong’ with it. They are separated and reunited. World War One features (I expected War Lion to appear at any second) but in this case it is the boy who distinguishes himself through bravery. There is the additional element of a love story between Bertie (the boy) and Millie (the narrator) which begins when they are children and lasts until death do them part.

Storytelling is a key feature. This is a tale within a tale. Young Michael does a runner from his stuffy boarding school and the cruelty of bully Basher, and winds up at a house, a very big house in the country. Old Millie (Gwen Taylor) takes him in out of the rain. She tells him the story of Bertie and the white lion cub that became his friend. Michael (Joe Jameson) becomes Bertie but the staging of the switching in and out of stories is so clearly done, you are never confused about which character and which story you are watching. Jameson is an appealing protagonist, capturing Michael’s sadness and subsequent enthusiasm, and portraying Bertie across the years. Gwen Taylor’s Millie is an endearing old soul – not quite as effective when she’s the ten-year-old girl but such is the magic engendered by this production, you run with it, as she runs trying to get her box kite in the sky. This is a story within a story about a story. There is a final twist, a surprise, but by that point I was awash with tears anyway. This is a play about life, love and loss, the mortality of all things – but it is not morbid or mawkish in the least. It’s a celebration of everything life throws at us all, a life lesson not just for the kids in the audience.

The puppets are wonderful. Deceptively simple in design and expertly handled, they allow the audience to read emotions into the animals and small children they represent. The cast is like a well-oiled machine. The deep rich voice of Israel Oyelumade is the African counterpoint to Millie’s English narration. Msimisi Dlamini brings a touch of the exotic as circus owner Merlot. Robert Curtis, Sanchia McCormack and Christopher Hogben nip in and out, offering support as parents, teachers, soldiers, nurses and so on, along with scene-shifting and puppet work. Director Daniel Buckroyd has gathered a hard-working and effective ensemble to perform his inventive ideas.

This was opening night and I spotted a couple of missed cues but there was nothing to detract from my enjoyment and appreciation of this magical, life-affirming piece of theatre.