Tag Archives: Jamie Vartan

Spot On


The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 5th December, 2017


Debbie Isitt’s adaptation of Dodie Smith’s 1956 popular classic provides a perfect package of festive fun as the REP’s Christmas show for this year.  Keeping a 1950s aesthetic in its clothes, furniture and voices, Tessa Walker’s production resonates with innocence and charm in its storytelling and theatrical brio in its execution.  Of course, we wonder how so many puppies are going to be represented; Walker and her team of talented puppeteers do not disappoint.  Jimmy Grimes has designed some economic but expressive dog and cat characters: an opening sequence of various people walking their various breeds of dog gets the show off to a delightful start.

Often, the plot calls for the puppets to hold the stage on their own.  Oliver Wellington’s Pongo and Emma Thornett’s Missis make an appealing pair of protagonists, while their human counterparts, Morgan Philpott and Nadi Kemp-Sayfi, make their potentially bland roles come alive with humorous flair and earnestness.  Lakesha Cammock brings pathos and bravery to the role of Perdita, while Mei Mac’s operating of the Persian Cat and the plucky tabby Tibbs brings diversity to this canine-dominated world.  Not only do the puppeteers demonstrate skill with the animation of their characters, they also give impressive vocal characterisations.  Quickly we overlook the artifice and begin to care for the creatures and their plight.

Of the humans, the baddies attract the most attention.  Jo Servi is the least overtly wicked as Cruella De Vil’s husband Horace, indulging and enabling her worst excesses, almost humanising her.  Luke Murphy is a lot of fun as dozy bad ’un, Saul Baddun, while Lewis Griffin shines as his energetic brother Jasper Baddun, with some hilarious physical comedy and moves that make him appear to be made of elastic, or perhaps he’s really a puppet himself!

Storming the stage in the iconic role of the vile and villainous Cruella is the magnificent Gloria Onitiri, parading around like a spoilt diva, like Ru Paul in his worst mood.  Onitiri is a scream – her wild-eyed driving is a maniacal treat.  But the production does not shy away from the story’s nasty side.  The horrors and evils of the fur trade loom large – Dodie Smith was ahead of her time in her criticism of this barbaric practice – and so while we revel in Onitiri’s performance, we recognise Cruella for what she is.

Tessa Walker maintains a fast pace, giving us laughs and tension through a myriad of inventive touches, aided by Jamie Vartan’s multi-level set, giving us cars driving off into the distance, model buildings.   A muted colour palette, augmented by Simon Bond’s beautiful lighting, gives the set a watercolour feel, like picture-book illustrations, with the only splash of colour the red lining of Cruella’s coat.

James Frewer’s original music, played live by onstage musicians and members of the cast, underscores the action with jazz-informed pieces, adding to the cartoonish feel, and there are a few good songs to heighten the mood and add to the fun.

All in all, it’s the REP’s best Christmas show for years.  It runs until January 13th – you’d be barking to miss it.

Gloria Onitiri (Cruella de Vil) (3)

Dogged determination: Gloria Onitiri as Cruella de Vil (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)


Relative Values

KHANDAN – family

The REP Studio, Birmingham, Tuesday 27th May, 2014


Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s new play is set in the home of an Indian family in Birmingham.  At the heart and head of the family, formidable matriarch Jeeto (Sudha Bhuchar) clings to a dream of going ‘home’ to a vista of green fields, viewed from the ancestral verandah.  To this end she pushes son Pal (Rez Kempton) to keep the family shop established by her late husband open on Christmas Day, but Pal has other ideas.  He wants to sell the shop and set up his own business, a care home for elderly Asians in a refurbished pub.  Pal’s wife Liz (Lauren Crace) has been assimilated into the family and is more than happy to adopt the traditional role of the daughter-in-law as live-in domestic help, while Pal’s spirited sister Cookie (Zita Sattar) regrets having married and raised children, as she was expected to.  When cousin Reema arrives from India with her own views of independence and fending for herself, the family tensions that have been simmering like the ever-present pan of ‘chai’ boil over.

It’s an involving play, keeping on the right side of soap opera and melodrama, acted and presented naturalistically.  Director Roxana Silbert handles the events that put strain on family ties by keeping things simple and straightforward, allowing the characters to spark off each other.  The script is very much a conventional one and does not need gimmicks or flashy transitions to dress it up.

Jamie Varton’s set has the audience as three of the walls of the house, giving an intimate setting complete with running tap water and a working gas hob, grounding the play in the realness of its subject matter.

The cast is excellent with Bhuchar and Sattar standing out as mother and daughter with contrasting temperaments.  Kempton and Crace also do well in their scenes of marital strife with the latter especially touching as the white girl who left her own family behind for love.  Neil D’Souza is good fun as Cookie’s hapless husband, Major, ostensibly a bit of a prat until Pal’s plans go awry, and Preeya Kaludas impresses with her portrayal of Reema’s decline from idealism to destitution.

The spectre (or should that be ‘spirit’?) of alcohol looms large in the family’s past and present, and the notion of Pal trying to establish an Asian care home in an old English pub symbolises the difficulties of trying to graft two cultures together to make something new…

There are some very funny lines, many of which come from salon owner Cookie who is not opening on New Year’s Day because ‘ you can’t do a Brazilian with a hangover.’  There is also a lot of heart and no shortage of tension in this story of family dynamics and the clash between ambition and tradition.  You may not understand the odd word or line of Punjabi with which the dialogue is peppered, but you don’t need to.  The universal truths of human relationships speak loud and clear.

Dramatically, Khandan is old-fashioned and sturdy but above all it’s an engaging and satisfying evening’s entertainment.



Mother knows best! Sudha Bhuchar and Rez Kempton (photo: Robert Day)