Tag Archives: Hamish Glen

Singing with The Enemy

WE’LL LIVE AND DIE IN THESE TOWNS

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 2nd October, 2018

 

Geoff Thompson’s new musical takes its score from the debut album of Coventry band, The Enemy.  Not being familiar with the group or their work, I am able to take the show at face-value, without the jolts of recognition that usually come with jukebox musicals.  Mamma Mia! this ain’t!   Telling the story of front man Argy’s struggle with a sudden, paralysing attack of stage fright on the day of his big homecoming gig, this turns out to be a thoughtful, poignant piece, as Argy embarks on an odyssey to face people from his past life in obscurity and come to terms with issues that have been plaguing him all along.

Thompson’s dialogue has a lyrical quality, which elevates the exchanges, adding to the mystical nature of Argy’s quest for enlightenment.  The show is structured mainly around two-handed scenes, with each person Argy encounters bringing up a different facet of our protagonist’s past.

Quinn Patrick is excellent as Argy’s ailing brother, a lapsed poet, in a bittersweet scene – Patrick later doubles as a comedy vicar for the show’s most spiritual scene.  Julie Mullins (formerly of Neighbours) provides strong support in a couple of roles, making me think how well suited she’d be for the role of Mrs Johnson in Blood Brothers… while Steven Serlin makes a strong impression as Argy’s manager and later as former friend, Owl, complete with a creditable Brummie accent.  Mark Turnbull shines as a bearded busker, with the look of the late Chas Hodges and a voice similar to Tom Jones, and Molly-Grace Cutler is suitably bitter and resentful as Argy’s alcoholic sister.  Meg Forgan also steps out of the backing band to portray Megan, thrilled to be namechecked in one of Argy’s songs.

But it is the central performance from Tom Milner as the troubled troubadour that keeps us hooked, in a sensitive, rounded and powerful portrayal, with searing vocals and a charismatic presence.  We sort of know all along Argy’s going to get his act together, but Milner takes us with him on Argy’s journey so that when the gig finally comes it’s a moment of exhilarating release.

It’s all played out on the stylised urban landscape of Patrick Connellan’s concrete block set, backed by projections of local streets and buildings.  Director Hamish Glen balances the humour and the poignancy of each scene; the show is bittersweet but never maudlin.

There are a couple of scenes that could do with trimming in terms of getting their point across but on the whole, this is an intelligent, grown-up piece with a strong, melodic score that proves irresistible by the end.  The onstage band is tight, the cast members uniformly brilliant, making for a thought-provoking and ultimately moving experience.  Argy’s journey seems deeply personal but Thompson’s writing speaks to the artist he believes to reside in each of us.

Electrifying.

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The Enemy within: Argy (Tom Milner) battles his demons (Photo: Robert Day)

 

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Stuff and Nonsense

The Quite Remarkable Adventures of THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 21st February, 2017

 

Edward Lear’s famous nonsense poem was the springboard for a book by former Python Eric Idle.  Now the book is adapted for the stage by composer and musical director, Dougal Irvine (who also provides the voice of the ‘Small Guitar’ and an imaginary dragon!).

The production is nothing short of charming.  An energetic ensemble of actor-musicians, led by Irvine, get proceedings underway with an audience singalong – normally the kind of thing to make me shrink in my seat, but the tune is infectious, the lyrics (including animal noises) are fun, and so I join in and am immediately put into a good mood, and predisposed to think kindly of the action as it unfolds.

The titular pair, both riddled with self-doubt and low self-esteem, form a bond when, Deep Impact style, they notice a comet is heading directly for the Earth, threatening an extinction event not seen since the dinosaurs were wiped out.  They inform an appropriate human at a university and set out on a quest to find the runaway Bong Tree (voiced by Idle himself, no less!).  Meanwhile, the show’s baddie, Lord Firelord is planning to wipe out all life on Earth with the creation of a new ice age…

The charm of the actors and the richness of the score, with its lively melodies and clever lyrics, keeps us on board this ride in the pea-green boat.  There is some social comment here – humans are too preoccupied with shopping to notice or care about their imminent destruction, and there is an obvious environmental message – but I think the show’s ‘lessons’ are in danger of being considered ‘nonsense’ along with the rest.  Characters take pride in speaking nonsense; anything they say that we are meant to take on board could easily be dismissed…

That aside, this is an enjoyable, family show, performed with verve and heart.  Danny Lane as Owl, and Sally Frith as Pussycat, are likeable protagonists, and their singing voices blend magnificently in their duets.  Miri Gellert impresses, voicing two glove puppets at once – similarly, Yanick Ghanty portrays a pair of henchmen simultaneously.  A comic highlight of the show is when he falls out with himself and beats himself up in a skilful display of physical comedy.  Vedi Roy plays bad guy Firelord with relish, complete with maniacal laughter, although I found his costume made him look like an Indian Elvis in Vegas.  Lizzie Wofford’s Pig and Professor Bosh show her versatility as a character actor – her singing voice is particularly powerful.

Director Hamish Glen balances larger-than-life characters and outlandish events with quieter, emotional moments, allowing the cast to bring out the ‘human’ (for want of a better word) side of the characters.  The kids in the audience are clearly enrapt by the drama with its themes of global extinction and mortality, friendship and love, while the adults enjoy the sharper jokes.  Libby Watson’s versatile set forms a backdrop for Dick Straker’s video projections, to depict the story’s various locations attractively and economically.  But for me, the production is all about one man – Mr Dougal Irvine.  His script is enriched by his compositions, a beautiful score other, larger productions would do well to emulate (I’m looking at you, Wonderland!)

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A Little Learning

THE SISTERHOOD

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 2nd February, 2016

 

Moliere’s Les Femmes Savantes is updated here by Ranjit Bolt – I say ‘updated’, the action is set firmly in the 1980s, yet this biting satire still has much to say to us today. Written in verse, the dialogue is heightened for comic rather than poetic effect. The production does not hide its artificiality – sparing use is made of asides, but it’s clear the situations and the characters are fashioned in such a way to make a point.

We are in the house of Chrysale (Peter Temple) an easy-going fellow, whose wife rules the roost. She is power-dressing Philaminte (Julia Watson), a formidable matriarch with a thirst for knowledge. She is the fly in the ointment – her domineering attitude will not allow younger daughter Henriette ( a winsome Vanessa Schofield) to wed poor but honest Clitandre (Joshua Miles), preferring to marry her off instead to pretentious poet Trissotin (a preening, beret-wearing Paul Trussell) in order to satisfy her own intellectual pretensions. Trissotin is truly awful as a poet, declaiming his verses as he strides along the coffee table. Clitandre is by contrast a less meaty role but Joshua Miles gives him the backbone he needs to stand up for what he wants.

Meanwhile, deluded cougar Belise (a sultry Joanna Roth) wants to get her claws into Clitandre, add to the mix Miriam Edwards as cheeky housemaid Martine, and hilarity ensues.

The play is in favour of the education of women, to be sure, but to me it is more about the sacrificing of femininity in order to succeed in a man’s world. There is something Thatcheresque about Philaminte – all the writers she admires are male, incidentally. Her maternal instincts are subdued in favour of pseudo-intellectualism, almost to the destruction of her marriage and family.

It’s fast and funny, comical and clever. Bolt’s adaptation keeps the spirit, shape and meaning of the Moliere original while making the references relatable to those of us who survived the 1980s, and it’s performed by a flawless ensemble who heighten their playing just enough to accommodate the verse. Funniest of this funny bunch though is Katherine Manners as elder daughter Armande, whose shoulder-padded blazer is at odds with her tartan mini-skirt, as she seeks to suppress her sexuality in favour of ‘higher’ things. There is strong support from Paul Hamilton as Artiste and Valentine Hanson as rival poet Vadius.

Libby Watson’s stylish set is elegant in its simplicity, dominated by bookcases just as the household is dominated by Philaminte’s book-learning. Mike Robertson’s lighting washes the set in acidic colours – director Hamish Glen gives us dumbshows during transitions between acts to a soundtrack of 80s hits.

It all adds up to a delicious evening of comedy and social commentary. It’s like finding a snake in a box of chocolates and being pleased to see it.

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Plain speaking. Brummie maid Martine (Miriam Edwards) tells it like it is.

 

 


Swing to the Right

PROPAGANDA SWING

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry Wednesday 17th September, 2014

Berlin, 1939 and American journalist Bill Constant (Richard Conlon) finds his radio broadcasts heavily vetted by nasty Nazi Heinrich Hinkel (Paul Lincoln) and the woman he loves is married to the studio’s band leader. It’s familiar territory with Constant a kind of Isherwood figure. He is our narrator and witness to the tightening stranglehold the Nazis have on their own country as well as the atrocities they perpetrate across Europe.

Jazz music is banned – until someone comes up with the idea to broadcast it to the UK, as a way of undermining British morale – the kind of bonkers idea lunatics on the far right believe will work.

And so the show is full of wonderful music, played live by an excellent band supplemented by cast members who also play instruments. Particularly impressive is Clara Darcy’s Anita who can play a mean trumpet. The music is in stark contrast to the realities of war and life in a crackpot regime, but because we as the audience know the music is being used as a weapon, we know we’re not supposed to enjoy it – especially when Charly Schwedler (Jonny Bower) a handsome young Nazi who changes the lyrics for added racism and anti-semitism.

During the second act, there is no applause. We don’t want to sound like we support the Nazis.

It’s much darker in the second act too. The strong ensemble, directed by Hamish Glen, play some tense and powerful moments, and there is a sense of the evil permeating their society as well as the effect it has on their personal lives, thanks to an intelligent script by Peter Arnott.

The splendid cast includes: Miranda Wilford as Lala the singer in the love triangle with Constant and Lutz Templin (Tomm Coles); Chris Andrew Mellon is dispossessed club owner and comedian Otto Stenzl, who has an extremely uncomfortable set, cracking Jew jokes and baiting the Gestapo; Paul Lincoln is superbly insidious as smarmy tinpot dictator Hinkel; The traitor Lord Haw Haw appears (Callum Coates) to spread his own brand of poison.  Coates is chilling and vile in his portrayal.

The music continues, but it is tainted for us now. Beautifully played, we cannot let it seduce us into applauding evil.

And so it’s a night of contrasts. We enjoy the performers and love the music but the story the show documents is sickening. It’s a salutary reminder why right wing lunacy should never be in power and, sadly, there are still right wing lunatics among us.

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