New Vic Theatre, Wednesday 16th May, 2018
Based on true events, which were subsequently novelised by Compton Mackenzie, this adaptation by Philip Goulding arrives at the New Vic via Oldham Coliseum and Hull Truck Theatre. It bears the hallmarks of what could potentially be a hilarious show.
Framed as a play-within-a-play, the set-up is a fictional theatre group, the Pallas Players, are to stage the story of two remote islands where a dearth of whisky, due to the War, turns into a glut when a ship carrying thousands of bottles runs aground. The group is all-female, presumably because in 1943, all the men are off warring. The cast of seven will play all the parts, islanders and outsiders alike, led by Sally Armstrong as Flora Bellerby, our narrator (among other roles). This framing device is a well-worn one. The hapless troupe in The Play That Goes Wrong springs immediately to mind, and the mighty Oddsocks employ the same convention for all of their productions of Shakespeare and other classics. Even Brecht uses it, when a load of factory workers present The Caucasian Chalk Circle. And so, we are on familiar ground.
The performance style is akin to the wildly funny The 39 Steps where a cast of only four do everything. Perhaps seven is too many to maintain the necessary madcap pace and to keep the sense of heightened theatricality constant. Larger-than-life characterisations, quick changes and smart ideas for the staging ought to add up to a whole that is funnier than the sum of its parts. Unfortunately, the overall effect is patchy. This kind of approach works best with scenes that involve action (Waggett’s car and the cut-out sheep, for example) Director Mark Babych’s staging ideas amuse but do not blow us away with their inventiveness. We have seen it all before and in places (such as some of the staged ‘mistakes’) it comes across as a bit tired.
The cast, though, is indefatigable. There is much to enjoy in the playing: the stuffy posturing of pompous Captain Waggett of the Home Guard (Isabel Ford) brings to mind the likes of Kenneth Connor and Arthur Lowe; Shuna Snow as young Sergeant Major Fred Odd gives a convincing portrayal – you could easily imagine Fred swaggering into the Queen Vic; but the scenes that really come alive are those that feature Christine Mackie as the fierce Mrs Campbell, mother to the timid George (Lila Clements). Mackie is a real hoot as this formidable woman, keeping to the right side of caricature. Joey Parsad has her moments as pub landlord Roderick, among other appearances, and Alicia McKenzie is great fun as Waggett’s wife Dolly. There is a running joke: cast members share the role of the brazen and coquettish Annag, and also that of Paddy the Waggetts’ dog. There is a lot of coming and going but it needs speeding up in places, and I don’t think the re-blocking of the action for the New Vic’s in-the-round arena always works.
And so, I’m afraid what should be heart-warming and intoxicating as any dram of the good stuff, turns out to be in need of a splash of soda to liven things up.
Shuna Snow as Fred, Isabel Ford as Waggett, and Christine Mackie as Paddy the dog (Photo: Joel Chester Fildes)
Leave a comment | tags: Alicia McKenzie, Christine Mackie, Compton Mackenzie, Hull Truck Theatre, Isabel Ford, Joey Parsad, Lila Clements, Mark Babych, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Oldham Coliseum, Philip Goulding, review, Sally Armstrong, Shuna Snow, Whisky Galore | posted in Theatre Review
The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 12th April, 2017
Working in collaboration with Hull Truck Theatre, the RSC brings us this new play from writer Richard Bean – of One Man, Two Guvnors renown. It’s the eve of the Civil War and the country is already divided. In Beverley, Sir John Hotham is torn. Should he support the King or Parliament? He flipflops between sides, playing each against the other, until his equivocations overtake him and he is arrested and – well, spoiler alert: the play begins with his execution. Knowing Hotham’s fate from the off removes suspense but his path to the chopping block is a twisted and entertaining one.
As the double-dealing Hotham, Mark Addy gives a star turn, brimming with Northern bluster and human failings, like a Tory jumping ship from Leave to Remain and back again. This is One Man, Two Guvnors in period costume. Caroline Quentin is his cooler-headed wife (the latest in a long line) but nonetheless funny. Sarah Middleton is a scream as their daughter, Frances, a giddy, histrionic young girl tearing around and even rolling into the laps of the front row. In contrast, her brother Durand (Pierro Niel-Mee) is straight-laced and academic – until his own ardour is aroused, of course. Canny servant Connie (Laura Elsworthy) and decrepit old pantaloon Drudge (an unrecognisable Danielle Bird) complete the household, embodying dry wit and physical clowning respectively.
There is a double act of young suitors in the shape of James, Duke of York (Jordan Metcalfe) and Prince Rupert of the Rhein (Rowan Polonski) who, for reasons of plot, dress as lady fishmongers. Both Metcalfe and Polonski are appealing presences and very funny. Also good fun is Ben Goffe as King Charles himself, mounted on a hobby horse – Goffe also makes an impression as the ghostly figure of a young girl murdered for breaking a vase.
Bean populates his five-act comedy with stock characters, making a farce of historical events and peppering the dialogue with sharp relevance. Hypocrites who seek to further their own ends at the expense of integrity – they should meet Hotham’s fate! The religious and the spiritual also come in for a lambasting. The puritanical Pelham (Neil D’Souza) and the hedonist Saltmarsh (Matt Sutton) are held up as excessive figures – the comedy arises from the exposure of weakness and appetites common to humans and both celebrates and mocks our foibles.
Director Phillip Breen pays attention to fine detail as well as broad comic playing. At times the action is chaotic – or seemingly so, as choreographed chases and fights break out. The acts are separated by rousing songs (by Grant Olding) performed live and on stage. Phill Ward is in excellent voice with his stirring agit-prop anthems that bring to mind the songs of recent folk-rock group The Levellers.
The show is consistently funny in a theatrically traditional way but it is more than a farcical reconstruction; it speaks to us directly. We are today in a divided country. We are caught up in epoch-changing political events – we can only hope that, unlike Hotham, we don’t lose our heads about it.
Mark Addy as Hotham (Photo: Pete Le May)
Leave a comment | tags: Caroline Quentin, Danielle Bird, Grant Olding, Hull Truck Theatre, Jordan Metcalfe, Laura Elsworthy, Mark Addy, Matt Sutton, Neil D'Souza, Phill Ward, Phillip Breen, Pierro Niel-Mee, review, Richard Bean, Rowan Polonski, RSC, Sarah Middleton, Stratford upon Avon, The Hypocrite, The Swan Theatre | posted in Theatre Review