Tag Archives: John Branwell

Comings and Goings

ARRIVALS & DEPARTURES

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Friday 11th October, 2013

Troubled soldier Ez is tasked with looking after Barry, a witness who will be able to identify a terror suspect when a train arrives.  As they wait, Barry’s loquaciousness (particularly about the weather) tests Ez’s patience to the limit but gradually they form a mutual respect and understanding.

Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play is more than a brief encounter on the railways.  The first act is intercut with flashbacks of Ez’s past.  The second is a repeat of the first act although this time the flashbacks reveal Barry’s personal history.  It’s a supremely effective device that maximises the impact of events when they reach both anticlimax and shocking denouement.

Elizabeth Boag is very strong as the cold and reserved Ez, who despite herself forms a kind of attachment to the wittering buffoon in her charge.  Kim Wall dazzles as Barry, who first appears as a numpty from the North (he sports a baseball cap rather than the stereotypical flat variety) but is revealed to be a lovely bloke.  Both are shown to be victims of unscrupulous people their paths have crossed.

Running the undercover operation is Quentin (a splendid Terence Booth) rehearsing his troops in scenes that show the soldiers’ amateurish dramatics in hilarious light.  There is powerful support from the likes of John Branwell, Richard Stacey and Sarah Parks, and I particularly liked James Powell as the young Barry, embarking on married life and taking over his father-in-law’s business.  Ben Porter again impresses with his versatility but really the entire ensemble merits praise for the seemingly effortless naturalism of their portrayals within a heightened and extraordinary situation.  Even the farcical elements are played for truth and this is why it works like a well-oiled machine.

Ayckbourn’s script balances riotous humour with amusing character study as well as giving us some dramatic and very poignant moments, while keeping the element of surprise up its sleeve.  It’s an entertaining, affecting piece, reminding us that we all have pasts of our own; we all go through life’s mill, but sometimes circumstances conspire to bring us together with a stranger and encounters, however brief or bizarre, can lead to a genuine connection.

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Elizabeth Boag and Kim Wall


No Time Like The Present

TIME OF MY LIFE

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Tuesday 8th October

In a restaurant, members of the Stratton family gather for matriarch Laura’s 54th birthday.  It’s a favourite venue and a bit of a family tradition – which is good, because all the action can take place on one set.  Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy was first produced in the 90s.  Now, 25 years later, it is still as relentlessly funny as ever – along with the usual Ayckbourn undercurrents of tragedy and bitterness.

What sets this piece apart is the structure.  We join the action during the celebration dinner but then, at other tables in the restaurant, we follow the fates of Laura’s sons.  We see one son’s future unfold at one table, and the other’s past is revealed at another.  It cuts from one to the other seamlessly and we are never confused about where we are in the timeline.

The ensemble works excellently to reveal these characters.  As selfish Laura, Sarah Parks brings a deadpan humour to the callous observations, balanced to perfection by “EveryDad” Gerry (the superb John Branwell).   Laura’s neglected son Glyn (Richard Stacey) matches her in monstrous selfishness, and one really feels for his good-natured wife, Stephanie (a delightful Emily Pithon).  Over-indulged son Adam (James Powell) is less abrasive than his brother, a sort of hapless twit in Tweed who, after some hilarious misunderstandings, falls for the dubious charms of hairdresser Maureen (Rachel Caffrey, bringing bathos and colour to the proceedings).

For me, the touch of genius comes in the device of having one actor play all the restaurant staff.  The versatile Ben Porter is a scream as a range of waiters in dodgy wigs and Greco-Albanian accents, mangling the English language, bursting into incomprehensible song and making gestures, lewd or threatening as the case may be.  This keeps the play firmly rooted in comedy even though some very dark things are said and indeed happen, off-stage.

The theme is reflected in the title.  It is about recognising moments of happiness when they occur rather than in bittersweet retrospect.  Which is, of course, easier said than done.  But while you’re in the theatre, revelling in this virtuoso display of acting and comedic brilliance, for that couple of hours you are enjoying the time of your life.

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No present like the time