Tag Archives: Hannah Kelly

On The Nose

CYRANO DE BERGERAC

The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 5th July, 2015

 

Edmond Rostand’s grand play is here presented in the Crescent’s Ron Barber Studio in this scaled-down adaptation by Glyn Maxwell. Even so, it’s an ambitious project: the Crescent is never shy of a challenge. A chorus of nuns form the chorus of minor characters in support of the protagonists. Some of them cope better than others with the heightened language and some have real stage presence: Angela Daniels, for example, as a lusty servant and as a Captain in the army! Les Stringer brings dignity as Le Bret and Alan Bull’s Ragueneau the cake-shop proprietor adds a touching quality: the experience of these two enriches the mostly young company.

Andrew Elkington is the dashing but goofy and gauche Christian de Neuvillette, unable to articulate his love for Roxane, until the eponymous Cyrano steps in to write epistles of love on the younger, better-looking man’s behalf. Cyrano loves Roxane too and so the letters are infused with his heartfelt but unspoken passion. As the big-nosed Cyrano, the excellent James David Knapp drives the piece with vigour and verve but he needs to be matched, in the comic moments, with equal energy. Director Alan K Marshall needs to make the comic business as sharp and quick-fire as Cyrano’s wit. The early scenes plod along at a steady pace, and the humour is ponderously dealt with – to its detriment.

When things take a more dramatic turn, the production comes into its own. An elegant Roxane, Hannah Kelly brings sensitivity as well as humour to the role, while Andrew Elkington’s Christian discovers fire in his belly in a satisfying performance. I warm to Nicholas Shelton’s De Guiche – he gets better as the play goes on. By the end, this stripped-down piece has the power to move. The dramatic climax is handled very well indeed.

Pat Brown and Vera Dean have gone all out for the costumes. In the absence of any set they evoke the period. Indeed, rails of costumes form the entrances and exits of the scenes, while dozens of frocks are suspended from the ceiling. This abundance of period clothing makes it all the more baffling why Cyrano himself is dressed like a modern-day supply teacher throughout. Like his nose, his costume sets him apart from the rest – not necessarily in a good way.

There is atmospheric lighting courtesy of Chris Briggs. Everyone is working so hard, you will them to succeed – and they make a good fist of it.

On the whole, this is an enjoyable production. It just needs to tighten up on the comic business to match the high quality of the emotional moments.

cyrano

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Army Dreamers

SERJEANT MUSGRAVE’S DANCE

Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 2nd March, 2014

John Arden’s play from the late 1950s is not an easy one.  This ambitious production in the Ron Barber Studio makes more than a good fist of bringing it to life.  From the get-go it is obvious that production values are of a high standard.   Faye Rowse’s impressive set, making use of packing crates and chequerboard tiles, serves as all the locations of the action: pub, graveyard, town square etc, atmospherically lit by James Booth’s design.  Jen Coley’s costumes are spot on, leaving all the colour to the bright red of the soldiers’ tunics.

Director Colin Simmonds (himself a fine actor) elicits solid performances from most of his cast and moments of excellence from some of them.  Nick Tuck is chirpy Private Sparky, one of the few likable characters in the piece, nicely contrasted with the other members of the trio, Gwill Milton and Vinnie Clarke.  These three and their sergeant turn up in a Northern town and are immediately taken to be recruiting officers.  The real purpose of their visit eventually becomes apparent.  Musgrave (a powerful Mark Thompson) stages his own coup de theatre, taking drastic action in a bid to realise his own agenda: to bring an end to all war.  It’s a noble aim but the end doesn’t justify the means.  The play is startlingly relevant given this weekend’s news from the Ukraine but even without that, Musgrave’s argument still stands for British/American troops in places like Afghanistan.  The two-eyes-for-an-eye approach to quashing ‘insurgents’ will only be curtailed if we stand against those who never get hurt in these conflicts, the ruling elite, represented here by establishment figures the Mayor and the Parson.  It’s electrifyingly staged and worth the slow, uphill build-up.

Les Stringer’s Parson looks like Derek Jacobi and sounds like Richard Griffiths, in a neat character study that brings to the fore the detestable hypocrisy of the man.  Similarly effective is Edward Milton’s Mayor, a buffoonish figure keen to execute some kind of social cleansing of his town by shipping the undesirables off to the army, but to my mind, the strongest of the local characters comes in the form of pub landlady Mrs Hitchcock, superbly played by Diane Pritchard.  Barmaid Annie is also strongly depicted, with more than a hint of Ophelia’s madness, by Hannah Kelly.

The show is peppered with folk music motifs – there is some evocative playing; Tim Gardner’s discordant violin is a prime example.  The characters are prone to singing snatches of folk songs at any given moment, which sometimes breaks the naturalism of the performance, reminding us that we are there to think about what the play is about as well as what it makes us feel.

Yet again, the Crescent provides a challenging and provocative production of a difficult play, well worth an evening of anyone’s time.

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P M Tension

KIDNAPPING CAMERON
The Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 18th July, 2012

This impressive show from the Young Rep Company is an entertaining and thought-provoking hour performed by an energetic and enthusiastic cast of, well, not quite, thousands, but there does seem to be a lot of them.
The show sets out its stall with the opening choral number: “Elections, Conservatives, Elections, Liberal Democrats, Electing posh prats.”

Inspired by the real-life incident when a nine-year-old wrote to the PM about the closure of libraries, only to get fobbed off by some letter-opener, Jennifer Tuckett’s enjoyable script has a group of frustrated and concerned teenagers snatch the PM and force him to sit in their den with a pillowcase on his head – a welcome device that frees the actor from trying to look like the brute and renders him silent throughout his captivity. Led by narrator Lucy (Hannah Kelly) the kids reveal their individual concerns and the impact this arrogant and short-sighted government has had and will have on their young lives. It’s not just the threats to the library service. There’s the ending of the EMA, lack of opportunity for them and their parents forcing them out of applying for university places… These points emerge between the exuberant rendition of songs old and new. There’s a version of the Katy Perry number, here played quite wistfully as If I Were Prime Minister and there’s a constant refrain of “Elections, elections, it’s all in our control” as a reminder to us all – all though at times it seems bitterly ironic.

The simplistic fantasy –the PM is easily snatched and so, later when he proves unsurprisingly useless, is the Queen, also pillowcased – addresses issues complex and straightforward. Why isn’t Politics taught in schools? Lack of political knowledge among the young does not equate to lack of concern.

When Her Majesty proves powerless, the kid kidnappers are visited by Justin Bieber because, they wink satirically, a celebrity will be able to sort things out. Well, well, Justin Bieber as a force for good! A neat portrayal by Thomas Goodall makes the point that there are role models out there for the young, although what actual influence they wield in the corridors of power is dubious at best.

News reports reveal that the Police are closing in – but before long, they give up and new figureheads are put in place. Nick Clegg is made PM – eliciting the biggest groan of the night.

Among the large cast, several of the performers stand out. James (Connor Doyle) carries most of the singing, and performs with presence and assurance. Franklyn O’Connor is good fun as Michael, desperate to have a family; and Grace Barrington has her moments as Sarah – lovely guitar playing too. The ensemble works smoothly and of course, some have more affinity for the stage than others, but it is pleasing to see them all working so well together and keeping the energy levels high. I can’t mention all the supporting players because there wasn’t time to catch all of their names, but I did notice Oscar Turner (as Sean and a corgi) and Connor Jones (as Francisco and second corgi). The whole thing is held together by Hannah Kelly as narrator and lead activist Lucy, a confident and nuanced performance, played with heart and humour.

The piece works as a revue and as a bit of agit-prop lite, urging the young (and everyone else) to become involved by writing letters, staging protests. I (and I left my youth behind – I miss him) found it quite empowering. They had me at “electing posh prats.”

The real-life ham-faced chancer should be tied up and made to watch this piece, although I fear that would be a treat rather than a punishment. And kidnapping’s too good for him! Bit of politics, my name’s not Ben Elton, goodnight.