Tag Archives: Jenny Seagrove

Re: Possessed

THE EXORCIST

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 25th October, 2016

 

William Peter Blatty’s novel became one of the most famous and celebrated horror films of the 1970s.  Now, John Pielmeier adapts the book for the stage, giving rise to questions like ‘How are they going to do that?’.  Fans of the film need not worry: all the iconic moments are here.  Director Sean Mathias uses every trick in the book of theatrical tricks to present what we expect to see: rocking beds, projectile vomit – this production really makes heads turn!  And it’s a real showcase for the technical team.  The illusions are designed by Ben Hart and supported by atmospheric, cinematic lighting by Tim Mitchell, who makes use of darkness and chiaroscuro to both hide and reveal what’s going on.  Adam Cork’s sound design surrounds us with eerie noises and disembodied voices.  Anna Fleischle’s set is versatile and evocative – Nick Gingell’s stage management team pull off wonders, changing scenes in pitch blackness so the action can flow from seamlessly from place to place.

Out front a strong cast delivers an engaging script, laced with humour to relieve the tension.  Jenny Seagrove is excellent as Chris, movie star and mum, unravelling as her daughter’s plight worsens.  Clare Louise Connolly is Regan, the child in question, and gives an astonishing performance as the ten-year-old falling prey to evil.  Although she spends much of the show in bed, she must be exhausted by the end!  Adam Garcia’s troubled Father Karras, trying to work through his grief over his late mother, finds redemption – the keynote of the production is that the cast play with earnest.  The material is bunkum – gloriously so – but the actors help us suspend our disbelief and go along for the ride with them.  Peter Bowles is fantastic as the titular exorcist, the ailing Father Merrin, managing to be imperious and vulnerable at the same time.  There is sterling support from Joseph Wilkins’s Father Joe, Mitchell Mullen’s Doctor Klein, and Todd Boyce’s Doctor Strong, a succession of ‘experts’ trying to diagnose what’s wrong with the little girl. Tristram Wymark is good fun as the camp and avuncular film director, Burke, and is party to one of the great shocks of the evening.  There are plenty of moments of grand guignol, to be sure, but what keeps us hooked is the unsettling atmosphere.  Anything might happen and right before our very eyes.  But among all the thrills and frissons, I can’t help thinking the devil doesn’t half sound like Sir Ian McKellan.

A gripping funfair ride of a show – perhaps it’s more frightening if you’re a believer – the production plays the horror movie tropes to great effect.  Wonderful entertainment for a chilly autumn night.

adam-garcia-as-father-damien-karras-clare-louise-connolly-as-regan-and-peter-bowles-as-father-merrin-in-the-exorcist

Bringing them to their knees: Adam Garcia, Clare Louise Connolly and Peter Bowles (Photo: Robert Day)

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Angels Delight

FALLEN ANGELS

Festival Theatre, Malvern, Monday 2nd September, 2013

The curtain goes up on Paul Farnsworth’s elegant set, the London flat of Julia and Fred Sterroll.  I say ‘flat’ it wouldn’t be out of place as a room in a stately home.  It’s all whites and golds and classical pillars.  At home among this luxurious decor, Julia (Jenny Seagrove) reads snippets from the paper while husband Fred (sitcom stalwart Daniel Hill) utters ripostes between mouthfuls of breakfast.  It’s all what you expect from a Noel Coward.  The dialogue fizzes like champagne.  Roy Marsden directs his cast to be as energised as possible to keep the delivery effervescent.  Also, the playwright’s umistakable turn of phrase is evident with every epigram.  The Sterrolls have appointed a new ‘treasure’, their maid and factotum Saunders (Gillian McCafferty) who turns out to be something of an insufferable know-it-all.

Trouble comes when Julia’s friend Jane (Sara Crowe) brings news that the women’s former lover, Maurice, is coming to town.  They fear their former indiscretions will come to light and at first plan to flee the city to evade exposure.  But the allure of Maurice is too strong to resist.  They decide instead to wait in for him, hoping to spice up their lives, which after ten years of marriage, have become too staid and complacent.

The second of three acts moves from Coward’s coruscating wit and turns into a hilarious display of physical comedy as Seagrove and Crowe become increasingly intoxicated, going from silliness and raucous fun to resentment, aggression and even violence.  It is an absolute treat to behold.

At long last Maurice shows up – Philip Battley, as dapper and suave and cosmopolitan as you’d expect, and helps his former flings to cover their tracks.  Their husbands are, for the most part, gulled.  It feels like the pilot episode of a situation comedy; you can imagine the women getting up to all sorts of fun with the Frenchman, and the husbands being fobbed off with all kinds of far-fetched explanations.

The show is a froth, a confection, with perhaps some kind of admonition to married couples not to let things becomes stale.  The husbands, Daniel Hill and Robin Sebastian, are appropriately stuffy and stuck-up.  Philip Battley is instantly charming.  Gillian McCafferty is superb as the clever-clogs maid.  But the piece belongs to the two main players.  It is absolutely delightful to see mature actresses having the run of the stage, flexing their comedic muscles, verbally and physically.  Seagrove and Crowe are the carbonation in this overflowing bottle of bubbly.

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Friends and Lavas

VOLCANO
Malvern Theatres, Tuesday 7th August, 2012

This little-known Noel Coward piece was stashed away for decades because of its basis in real-life marital infidelities and so, to protect the guilty, has not seen the light of day until now.

The setting is the exotic Mount Fumfumbolo, which is a volcano and not a puppet in a kids’ TV show. On the side of this volcano, overlooking her banana plantations, widow Adela (Jenny Seagrove) enjoys solitude, the occasional company of her friends and a bit of a fling with louche Lothario, Guy (Jason Durr). He’s been chasing around the mountain but she, although in love with him, will not bump nasties with a married man. She keeps the lid on her simmering desire, you see, bit like the dormant volcano of the title.

Guy’s Mrs shows up and outbitches everyone at a tense little cocktail party. Were it not for the sultry, almost Tennessee Williams setting, this would be a run-of-the-mill suburban drama, with inferior epigrams and an unremarkable premise. However, in the second half, when the volcano blows its stack, the characters are thrown into physical as well as emotional crisis. Guy is unfaithful but not with Adela after all – he shacks up with young bride Ellen (Perdita Avery) in a shack, to take shelter from the eruption. Scratchy wife Melissa (Dawn Steele) rises above it all with some superior archness. Everyone seems to go back to England and poor Adela is left to reconstruct her homestead (three busted light bulbs and some overturned furniture) and finally ‘enjoy’ her solitude and her bananas. It is the calm after the storm, the aftermath of the outpouring.

Jenny Seagrove is elegant and likeable as Adela. Jason Durr is tanned and smarmy as Guy. I particularly liked Finty Williams as Grizelda. Most Cowardesque of the bunch is Robin Sebastian as her husband Robin. The cast keep on the right side of the ‘teddibly teddibly’ kind of delivery and Dawn Steele oozes arrogance and evil as uberbitch Melissa. Roy Marsden’s direction keeps the somewhat outmoded dialogue sparking along, although when the volcano blows, I would rather see a blackout than the dangling gantry of lights and the plastic plants being strewn across the stage.

It is a pity this play didn’t do the business when it was written in the 1950s. Being shoved in a drawer and forgotten denied it its initial impact and robbed it of becoming a theatrical milestone for its frank discussions of sex, morality and sexual politics. Now its time has passed. The world has moved on in more ways than one; the play is something of a curiosity rather than the cutting-edge discussion-provoker it should have been.