Tag Archives: Joanne Heywood

Dead Boring

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 25th July, 2012

Ron Aldridge’s new play deviates, but not very far, from his usual output. There is the middle-class setting you would expect and a bunch of well-spoken middle-class characters, and a humorous (largely sarcastic) tinge to the dialogue, but the aim of the show is something different. This is a supernatural psychological thriller. Or something. I don’t know.

It is so uneven in tone you can’t tell what it’s supposed to be. You quickly discover you don’t care.

It begins in the hideous lavender bedroom of the protagonist’s mistress. He (Peter Amory) is on the phone to her – he has been cleared of all suspicion of murder and is in the mood to celebrate. As he makes lovey-dovey sounds on the phone, a woman in black (hah!) shows up, making obvious signs of distaste at every sweet nothing she overhears. This is his wife (Joanne Heywood) or rather his ex-wife or rather (and you work this out in seconds flat) his late wife. She is a ghost on a campaign of nagging, cajoling and even seducing the truth out of him. That she is tangible and very obviously a physical presence is glossed over by some nonsense.

The mistress (Nicola Weeks) comes home and wants to have her way with the confused and distracted Amory. Meanwhile he is repeatedly grabbed by the goolies by the ghoul, who mocks him for his inability to perform. The ‘adult’ nature of the scene is just embarrassing. Imagine Fifty Shades of Grey enacted by the parish council.

The first act closes with the surprise arrival of a second ghost (Nick Ricketts) looking like Timothy Claypole – if he had been an accountant or a supply teacher rather than a court jester – entering through the bed – a trick seen before in Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein. Yawn.

This is the ghost of the girlfriend’s brother. It is a spirited performance by Ricketts but he has to chew through great swathes of exposition, describing the kind of afterlife that is rife with management-speak and pop psychology bullshit. The ghosts have come back to help the murderer process his crimes – this is a twist on the usual trope of ghost stories where it is the revenant that has unfinished business. Trouble is, the new age, pseudo professional manner of the ghost denies him any chance of instilling fear or eliciting pity.

Through a series of regressions, he forces Amory to relive key scenes from the past. He mimes pulling off a doll’s head. Because he got away with this terrible act, the ghost reasons, he was prompted to move on to do it again. We see Amory tangle with Ricketts in a cliff top quarrel (on the bed) resulting in the death of Ricketts. Meanwhile, the dead wife has found she can sort of communicate with the mistress. If she says Bloody Hell, then the mistress says Bloody Hell.

It really is a tortuous load of old tripe, weighed down by its own bollocks. Repeated mention of ‘contradictory impulse syndrome’, ‘bringing information forward’ and the ‘essence of knowledge’ sent shudders down my spine, strangling any chance this production has of creating atmosphere. As an examination of the psychological effects of murder on the murderer, it seems trite and obvious. How I longed for Banquo’s Ghost or indeed any scene from Macbeth, Shakespeare’s exploration of the same theme without recourse to buzz words and jargon.

The cast keep it going earnestly enough but their belief in the convoluted rubbish doesn’t transmit to the audience. None of the revelations surprises. None of the characters is sympathetic enough to make you give a fig about the unsurprising outcome.

A real disappointment – when done properly, scary plays work better than scary films.

Acting Prime Minister

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 3rd July, 2012

When pompous Prime Minister Randolph Bolton keels over and drops dead just days before a general election, the Home Secretary and the Minister for the Arts hit upon a plan to replace him with a look-alike until their election victory is assured.

So begins Charles Ross’s comedy thriller. The far-fetched plot only works because the characters are all objectionable. There is no time for sentiment; it’s all about the cover-up and keeping their unfeasible balloon in the air. And so the backstabbing, manipulations and machinations of the senior Cabinet are revealed. By the interval, it emerges that the PM was murdered, leading to a faster-paced second half. The intrigue and the whodunit aspects keep you interested… but that’s about all that does. You don’t give a monkey’s about this bunch of unsympathetic creatures.

Much of the humour comes from references that would have been topical when the play was new but now evoke nostalgic laughter among those old enough to remember the political climate at the time. Reagan was in the White House and so much is made of having an actor in power (the PM’s double appears to be doing a better job than the real one).

Among this nest of Machiavellian vipers, Keith Drinkel snarls and growls as the uptight Home Secretary, Belinda Carroll looks the part in her power-dressing couture but seems tongue-tied, and Chris Ellison exudes brooding menace as the efficient, shaved-gorilla-in-a-suit security boss. David Callister as the PM and his double has the most to do, establishing in the PM’s brief opening scene enough of the characterisation for us to recognise when he is impersonating himself later on. As the PM’s wife, Joanne Heywood adds cool elegance to the proceedings but the most statesmanlike performance, played with bold and casual assurance comes from Tony Adams. His Foreign Secretary is a man accustomed to power, a man who feels entitled to it and is able to wield it.

And so an unlikely premise turns into an intriguing puzzle that takes sideswipes at politicians and politicking along the way. No one is wholly right or purely honourable it turns out; it’s the electorate who are deceived and cheated the most.

Tell us something we don’t know.