Tag Archives: Harry Kershaw

Having a Nose Around

EDMOND DE BERGERAC

The REP, Birmingham, Friday 22nd March, 2019

 

Cyrano de Bergerac is one of the greatest historical romance dramas ever written.  Most people will be familiar with the title character and his big nose and perhaps also with the idea of him providing words of love for another man to woo the woman they both love.  This play by Alexis Michalik (in an ebullient translation by Jeremy Sams) tells the story of that play’s making.  We follow the early career of poet Edmond Rostand, his flops and his writer’s block, until he finds inspiration in the form of Jeanne, who happens to be the girlfriend of Rostand’s mate Leo.  To add to the triangle, Rostand is married…

Michalik builds in elements that directly influence Rostand in the creation of his masterpiece, so the action closely mirrors the great work that is to come.  Which is fun – we’re not here for historical accuracy!

As the writer-under-pressure, the delicately-featured Freddie Fox is excellent.  Caught up in a whirl of romantic intrigue and theatrical creativity, Fox dashes around, getting more and more frazzled and then, when inspiration strikes, he bubbles over with enthusiasm.  Of course, there is more to the writing process than this, but we’re not here for verisimilitude!

Fox is supported by a fine ensemble, with featured roles from Robin Morrissey as fit but dim Leo (the model for Cyrano’s Christian) and Gina Bramhill as Rostand’s muse Jeanne (the model for Cyrano’s Roxanne).   Jodie Lawrence is a lot of fun as a fruity-voiced Sarah Bernhardt, among other roles, while Henry Goodman is magnificent as celebrated actor Coquelin (the first to play the role of Cyrano).  Harry Kershaw is hilarious as Coquelin’s son – it takes skill to act badly! And Chizzy Akudolu swans around like a true diva as Maria, slated to be the first Roxanne.  Delroy Atkinson’s Monsieur Honore is immensely appealing – it is he who is the model for Cyrano – and I enjoy Nick Cavaliere and Simon Gregor as a pair of unsavoury backers.

Robert Innes Hopkins’s set is a theatre within the theatre, a stage upon the stage.  This is a theatrical piece about a piece of theatre.  Director Roxana Silbert heightens the farcical aspects of the situation as well as the more dramatic moments, delivering a highly effective piece of storytelling, and that is what we’re here for!  While this is a lot of fun and is excellently presented, it doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of Rostand’s great work, but then, it doesn’t have to.

We might leave knowing more about Rostand than when we came in, but above all this amusing night at the theatre makes us want to see Cyrano again.

Freddie Fox (Edmond) in Edmond de Bergerac_credit Graeme Braidwood

Fantastic Mr Freddie Fox and Delroy Atkinson (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)

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Labour in Vain

THIS HOUSE

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 17th April, 2018

 

This hit production from the National Theatre/Chichester Festival Theatre/Headlong comes to this town and reminds this reviewer of its brilliance.  James Graham’s script, dealing with the behind-the-scenes, Machiavellian machinations of the Chief Whips of both main parties, mines a rich seam of humour.  It is the 1970s and Labour has a minority government.  All the stops have to be pulled out to win over the ‘odds and sods’ to vote on the government’s side.

It’s a macho – or rather, blokeish world of hard drinking, hard swearing immaturity, where tradition is held in awe but nothing more so than the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’.  The opposing sides wind each other up, one-upmanship is king and fair play hardly gets a look-in.  It’s a chess game on a massive scale, with the Chief Whips sniping at each other like rival head prefects.

Martin Marquez is excellent as tough-talking Labour whip, Bob Mellish, with William Chubb’s Humphrey Atkins as the perfect sneering foil over on the Tory side.  Graham characterises both sides in broad terms: the Labour lot are beer-swilling, down-to-earth working class men with ‘real jobs’ in their backgrounds; the Tories are privileged, entitled snobs.  Tony Turner’s Michael Cox remains decent in his desperation, while on the other side, Harry Kershaw’s member for Chelmsford makes a prissy and hilarious impression.  There is a running joke about apologising for swearing in front of that rare creature, a female MP – Natalie Grady’s Ann Taylor soon proves she can give as good as she gets, and there is a delicious turn from Louise Ludgate as the member for Coventry South West, silently doling out the cash to pay a fine.

Labour’s Walter Harrison (James Gaddas) and his oppo Jack Weatherill (Matthew Pidgeon) share a mutual if grudging respect for each other and each other’s methods in a relationship that encapsulates the cut-and-thrust of party politics at that time.  Meanwhile, off-stage, rises the spectre of evil that will poison politics for decades, like Voldemort gradually taking physical form, as the member for Finchley, unseen, climbs the ranks to Tory party leader, ultimately becoming prime minister.  As the lights fade, an extract from Thatcher’s inaugural speech brings the fun and games to a chilling end…

Director Jeremy Herrin maintains a cracking pace, keeping the barbed remarks and the fur flying, eliciting energetic performances from his ensemble.  A live band keeps the energy levels up, with short and long bursts to cover transitions or to underscore the more stylised sequences depicting the arcane rituals of the House.

It’s a hilarious piece, a satirical cartoon of a show recounting a remarkable time in British politics, but be aware: the current mob who occupy This House for real are not playing for laughs.

THIS HOUSE

Best of frenemies: James Gaddas and Matthew Pidgeon (Photo: Johan Persson)


So Wrong It’s Right

PETER PAN GOES WRONG

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 27th January, 2015

 

This companion piece to the West End hit The Play That Goes Wrong is no less hilarious. We watch with growing marvel and delicious glee as the drama society from ‘Cornley Polytechnic’ plough through their production of the J M Barrie classic.

Most live performances have something that goes wrong – although the audience doesn’t notice most of the time. It’s part and parcel of live theatre: a cue could be missed, a prop might refuse to cooperate… Here, writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, take all those hazards and cram them into a couple of hours of non-stop belly laughs. Scenery collapses, things get stuck or misplaced, and sometimes the sheer incompetence of the actors comes to the fore. Clumsiness and bad luck conspire to wreck the performance. Surprise follows surprise and there are moments of delicious expectation: you know someone’s going to come a cropper; it’s just a matter of time…

Because we know it’s all staged, there is a safe distance at which to enjoy people supposedly incurring terrible injuries. There is something inexorably funny about someone being whacked on the head with a plank. But you sit there thinking how many times can I laugh at this?

Many, many times, it turns out.

The writers are savvy enough to include other factors: the relationships between the actors also add to the catastrophe. There is much to enjoy here along with the relentless slapstick.

Laurence Pears is a hoot as ‘director’ Chris Bean, doubling as Captain Hook and an especially bombastic Mr Darling. His resentment at being treated like a pantomime villain seems heartfelt. ‘Co-director’ Robert (Cornelius Booth) the eldest member of the cast plays Michael, the youngest character. Of course it does – it’s this kind of ‘keep the show going at all costs’ silliness that both rings true and makes you cringe.  Booth also gives an unintelligble pirate whose boat-rowing ‘skills’ have to be seen to be believed.

Leonie Hill’s balletic and melodramatic Wendy overacts and postures, regardless of the demands of the scene. It’s a well-placed parody of the mannered actress, where technique overrides talent. Harry Kershaw’s Mr Smee is an object lesson in lack of stage presence.

Alex Bartram’s Pan battles bravely – not against Hook – but with the technology that is meant to keep him aloft. It’s physical comedy with the added peril of gravity – and there are many good gags involving him crashing into things.

Director Adam Meggido does not let up on the action for a minute. Somehow the chaos prevailing on the stage is choreographed to reach a climax. It’s a dazzling display of skill and focus – never mind the amount of energy expended by the cast.

What emerges is more than a couple of hours of laugh-out-loud fun. Yes, there is the ‘show must go on’ philosophy taken to the extreme, but the show is also a metaphor for the indomitable human spirit. When all around is falling apart, the actors pull through by pursuing their common goal. We should take heart from that whenever the news makes us feel like the world is fast-tracking its way to hell.

Laurence Pears showing bottle as Captain Hook.  Oh yes he is.

Laurence Pears showing bottle as Captain Hook. Oh yes he is.