Tag Archives: Jaz Davison

Good Grief

THE LONG ROAD

The Crescent Theatre, Sunday 10th May, 2015

 

A young man is murdered in a senseless assault outside a shop. The murderer is a young girl off her head on drugs. This is the event that triggers what follows in Shelagh Stephenson’s powerful piece about grief and coming to terms with sudden and inexplicable tragedy.

Director Jaz Davison stages the murder before curtain up, in the theatre bar. It’s a shocking outburst but we, the audience, don’t know how to react. We shuffle off to the studio space to take our seats.

When the play begins properly, we meet the dead boy’s family: his parents and his older brother Joe. Through a series of monologues they tell their sides. What comes across is honesty – Stephenson’s writing is top notch.

Professionally dispassionate Elizabeth (Danielle Spittle) is brought in by mum Mary to try to help make sense of the senseless. Spittle is quite a contrast to the raw emotional truth of the others, and necessarily so, so it takes longer to appreciate her performance. The others are immediately gripping: Harry Clarke as the surviving son is intense; Roger Saunders as John, the dad, is utterly credible, first escaping into running and later into the bottle. But it is Joanne Hill as Mary who is utterly heart-breaking as she goes through a range of reactions in her bid to come to terms with this most terrible event.

Grace Hussey-Burd is also excellent as the damaged, twitchy Emma, the killer, unable or unwilling to articulate her motives, displacing her aggression in rants about confectionery and, of all things, olives.

Throughout the play, dead boy Dan is a constant, wordless presence, watching and waiting for his family to be able to let him go – Liam Cobb gives a haunting performance indeed!

Elizabeth works to bring Mary and Emma together – it is by no means plain sailing or what a meeting between murderer and victim’s mother might achieve, and this is what makes the drama so gripping. Stephenson’s writing is scalpel-sharp and bitterly humorous, and served extremely well by this engrossing and emotionally truthful production. Another high quality and thought-provoking piece from the Crescent.

long road

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Constant – in parts

THE CONSTANT WIFE

The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 6th October, 2013

 

Somerset Maugham’s 1926 comedy is brought to sparkling life in Jaz Davison’s lively production.  It tells the story of Constance, the titular wife, whose husband has been having a long-standing affair with one of her best friends.  Everyone around Constance strives to hide the ugly truth from her but, it turns out, she has known all along.  Constance is nobody’s fool.  Red faces all around.  But it is what happens next that takes this comedy of manners into Ibsen territory.  More assured than Ibsen’s Nora, Maugham’s Constance not only turns the tables on her unfaithful spouse but carves out a niche for herself, claiming that the economic independence she has earned for herself is the key to opening up the rest of her life.  She is no more bound to her husband by financial need than she is to convention and, some might say, propriety.

It’s a great-looking production, played in-the-round in the theatre’s Ron Barber Studio with a detailed but unfussy set designed by James Rowland, and a parade of 1920s fashions from costume designer Stewart Snape.  The women are especially well-dressed with fur stoles draped over their shoulders like roadkill – reminders that the play has become a period piece, and that some aspects of society have changed considerably since it first opened.

As Constance, Liz Plumpton cuts an elegant figure.  At first she is a little too imperious and not playful enough but she warms up and becomes delightful, her delivery matching the wit of her dialogue.   The characters fire off Widean epigrams like champagne corks – some of the cast handle this mannered way of speaking with great ease.  Particularly impressive is Jo Hill as Barbara, and Danielle Spittle’s Martha improves as the action unfolds.  Plumpton is ably supported by Roger Saunders as old suitor Bernard and Kate Campbell as treacherous Marie-Louise, but it is her moments with husband John that really stand out.  Colin Simmonds’s performance is a delight from start to finish as the smarmy philanderer in a beautifully detailed and executed characterisation.  And very, very funny.

Jaz Davison’s direction has some stylish touches (like the use of butler James Smith for the transitions) but a little lighter handling of the earlier moments would get the performance fizzing along from the get-go.  It’s a soufflé on which the oven door has been opened too soon, but the cast rally and aerate the confection as soon as they settle in.  From that point on The Constant Wife becomes consistently funny.

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