Tag Archives: Jess Shannon

Daddy Issues


The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday 27th May 2023

French playwright Florian Zeller’s play comes to the Crescent via this translation by Christopher Hampton.  Even though the characters are French in name, and the setting is still Paris, it is played as though English – no Allo Allo accents here!  It’s the story of an elderly man, the father of the title, who is succumbing to that cruel disease dementia.  We see the strain it places on his relatives, particularly his long-suffering daughter, and on her relationship with Pierre.  Crucially though, Zeller shows us the action through the father’s eyes.  Andre hardly ever leaves the stage and we share his confusion as characters are portrayed by different actors and gradually the on-set furniture is reduced piece by piece.  Later, scene transitions are carried out by faceless beings who claw at Andre behind his back, while harsh lights flare and discordant music blares.  It’s all unsettling.  As Andre’s condition worsens, the stage becomes increasingly bare.  Until (spoiler!) there’s nothing left but his hospital-style bed, and we realise he’s been in a care home all along, his day-to-day experience coloured by his fractured memories, mixing up care home staff with his relatives.  It’s a devastating finale, the father regressing to childhood.

Crescent veteran Brian Wilson stars as Andre.  He’s been in almost ninety productions and I’ve seen him many times, but he’s never been better than he is in this, bringing out Andre’s bewilderment, vulnerability, volatility and fixations with skill and sensitivity.  He is supported by Jenny Thurston as his frustrated daughter, and Eduardo White as the increasingly exasperated Pierre.  Katie Siggs makes an impression as the well-meaning but patronising carer Laura, while Charles Michael and Jess Shannon add to Andre’s confusion by cropping up as people he’s supposed to know but doesn’t recognise.

Mark Thompson’s direction delivers the puzzles of the play.  Unlike Andre, we have the faculties to work out what’s going on, and the deceptively simple staging is hugely effective.  There is humour too, so it’s not all doom and gloom.  The depiction of the degenerative disease comes across as authentic, even though some lines of dialogue, perhaps losing something in translation, don’t quite ring true.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Who’s the daddy? Brian Wilson and Charles Michael (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)

Stable Relationship


Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday 30th June, 2018


The Crescent’s Ron Barber Studio is home again to yet another outstanding production.  Director Stewart Snape’s take on the Peter Shaffer classic is instantly engaging, thoroughly engrossing and blisteringly devastating.

The mighty Colin Simmonds completely inhabits the role of disillusioned psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, charged with his most disturbing case ever: the case of an (un)stable boy who, for some reason or other, took it upon himself to blind six horses in one night.  Simmonds’s Dysart feels as well-worn as his jacket, jaded in his erudition, and also very funny.  Shaffer’s play has a rich seam of humour running through the soul-searching and philosophising and Snape gets the tone spot on.  Dysart’s professional relationship with kindly magistrate Hesther comes across, thanks to the chemistry between Simmonds and Jo Hill, but of course, it is the scenes between Dysart and his patient that grip and thrill the most.

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Sam Wilson and Colin Simmonds (Photos: Graeme Braidwood)

Sam Wilson is an excellent Alan Strang: pent-up and brooding at times, aggressively blaring out his thoughts at others.  Wilson switches from teenage Alan to young boy Alan with ease in his re-enactments of key moments from his troubling life.  An understanding develops between doctor and patient, and the mystery unfolds…

Sturdy support comes from Andrew Lowrie as Alan’s repressive father – nowadays we might call him ‘gammon’ – and Zena Forrest as Alan’s mother, credibly desperate (beneath a somewhat ill-advised wig!) as she seeks to understand but mainly exonerate herself from the shocking act of violence perpetrated by her child.  Jess Shannon is matter-of-fact as Alan’s attempted love interest, Jill – a pleasing contrast to all the wordy soul-searching of the others; Angela Daniels makes a formidably efficient Nurse; while Josh Scott has his moment as the bewildered stable owner.

Phil Leonard makes a strong impression as the Young Horseman, and also as Nugget, one of the ill-fated horses.  As is customary in this show, the horses are represented by actors in stylised masks, using movement (head tossing, foot stamping) to evoke horsiness.  John Bailey’s creations for this production are elegant constructions of wire that the actors don like ritualistic masks.  The tramping of their hooves, and assorted other noises, add to the tension.

The story is played out on a set of wooden floorboards and railings, suggestive of the stable, and also of a performance space: it is where Alan’s memories are staged, and also his place of worship.  The face of a horse is stained into the wood, reaching up the back wall and along the floor, almost like a presence itself.  Colin Judges’s design is beautifully efficient, superbly suited to Shaffer’s theatrically sophisticated script, where narration and reconstruction are entwined with more naturalistic scenes.  John Gray’s splendid lighting, warm straw and cold blue, adds to the atmosphere.

This play about passion builds to a searing climax: the stylised re-enactment of the crime itself, a Bacchic moment, horrific in a symbolic way, leading Dysart to understanding at last, and brings to a close another superlative offering from the Crescent.

In a word: blinding.

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