Tag Archives: Jack Milner

Squid Pro Quo

OCTOPUS SOUP!

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Monday 5th February, 2019

 

This production is the world premiere of a brand-new farce, written by Jack Milner and Mark Stevenson.  Certainly, many of the key ingredients are here: heightened situations, people talking at cross-purposes – the protagonist even gets his trousers off in the first couple of minutes!  And yes, it is very funny but, as it turns out, this farce is more than frothy entertainment.  Like the titular dish, there are meaty bits to chew on…

Nick Hancock is tightly wound insurance consultant Seymour Norse, preparing for a video call with Gillian Bevan’s formidable CEO, Virginia Whale.  Having a character on-screen brings this conventional format up-to-date, and there is a lot of mileage in what Virginia is permitted to see and hear, thanks to the ministrations of hapless, arthritic burglar, Marvin Haynes (Paul Bradley on excellent form).  Add to the mix, Carolyn Backhouse as Gloria, Seymour’s histrionic actress wife, and The Bill’s Eric Richard as menacing underworld boss, Alan, and the stage is set for a fraught dinner party, full of misunderstandings and cracking one-liners – all while trying not to stress out Terry, the burglar’s pet octopus.  Hancock and Bradley make a fine duo, and Backhouse is a scream as the egotistical Gloria.  Eric Richard has a strong presence, on the other side of the law for once, and Gillian Bevan is both glamorous and haughty.  As the plot extends its tentacles, pulling everyone into a scam that could be worth billions, it’s every person for themselves.

It’s in the second act that the show’s message comes to the fore.  Milner and Stevenson use a dated, conventional format to speak to us of the present.  “What the world needs now is brains not bullets” is just the start of it.  Parallels are drawn between insurance CEO Virginia and organised crime boss Alan: capitalism is criminal activity, or certainly immoral and unethical, legal though it may be.  Seymour finally gets to deliver his presentation, a plea for the rehabilitation of the financial sector the world so desperately needs.

Played with energy and conviction by all concerned, this is a hugely enjoyable piece of work, and you get the feeling that things are tightening up as the run gets into its stride.  Pacing is everything in farcical situations and director Joe Harmston clearly has an eye for comic business and another for building tension.

Like Terry the octopus, this show has legs…

Nick Hancock and Paul Bradley in Octopus Soup! - credit Robert Day

NIck Hancock and Paul Bradley in one of the show’s calmer moments! (Photo: Robert Day)

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Badinage and Bandages

THE MUMMY
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 25th March, 2014

Director Joe Harmston has put together a company of actors, many of whom are familiar from his productions of Agatha Christie plays, and brings out a different side to them in this delightfully silly show, loosely based on an old Bram Stoker story, The Jewel Of The Seven Stars. From the start, you know you’re in for a treat as Jason Durr narrates the back story, accompanied by some hilariously low-tech projections and shadow play. Jack Milner’s script reminds me of the golden age of radio comedy with its wordplay and double talk, complemented by much on-stage comic business of Harmston’s devising. The laughs keep coming.

It’s not perfect: the quick fire gags are hit-and-miss and the pacing flags a little in the first act. The audience participation that greets us when we’ve come back from the bar for the second act is needed earlier on – especially since the curtain up was delayed by quarter of an hour due to a technical hitch; we needed warming-up by then. The second act tears along relentlessly and consistently daft.

On the whole, it’s a laugh-out-loud romp, played to the hilt by a very funny ensemble. Denis Lill is spkendidly crazed as the Egyptologist on a mission – as well as a couple of other roles – Jason Durr, the heroic lawyer with his eye on Lill’s daughter (there is a dancing scene that ensures I will never regard Durr in the same light) and David Partridge is very funny as bonkers explorer Corbeck. Andrew Bone makes the most of his role as Inspector Doolan.

There is much fun to be had with doubling of roles and dummies but for me the revelation of the night is the beautiful Susie Amy, vamping it up and camping it up as the Professor’s daughter and the reincarnated Egyptian princess. I hope she does more comedy in the future. Dean Rehman’s immortal high priest Sosra is a deliciously evil (and hilarious) creation – I shan’t forget the eye-pulling scene in a hurry.

It’s a great-looking show too. Sean Cavanagh’s set design is almost like a toy theatre; scenes are wheeled on and off on trucks by stagehands dressed as workmen, keeping things moving and allowing for some very funny exits and entrances. Ben Cracknell’s lighting casts a nostalgic glow over the proceedings, the soft haze of an old film.

The Mummy is an old-fashioned slice of British silliness, clever and stupid at the same time, a celebration of artifice and theatricality while sending up its own form.

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