Tag Archives: John Cummins

Dirty rotten scoundrels

THE ALCHEMIST

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 29th June, 2016

 

Ben Jonson’s 1610 comedy owes much to the works of Roman comic playwright, Plautus: the scheming servant using his master’s house for illicit purposes, the characters typified by flaws, fast action and comeuppances – all are here in breath-taking form.

Face (Ken Nwosu) takes advantage of Lovewit’s absence to house a couple of partners-in-crime, namely Subtle (Mark Lockyer) and Dol Common (Siobhan McSweeney).  The former is the titular ‘alchemist’, conjuring jargon and nonsense with which to con their victims into believing that, for the right price, he can supply them with the philosopher’s stone, which Harry Potter fans will know has the power to turn base metals into gold.  The latter is called upon to playact a range of parts to support the cons, including a hilarious sequence involving a fairy queen spinning above the stage.  All three are excellent, displaying the energy and versatility of the hustlers as well as the underlying tensions between them.  Their ‘venture tripartite’ is as volatile as any of Subtle’s concoctions.

They are strongly supported by a range of victims, including a swaggering Joshua McCord as Dapper who wants supernatural assistance for his gambling, a dopy Richard Leeming as tobacconist Abel Drugger who wants the Jacobean equivalent of feng shui to ensure success for his business, and a bombastic Ian Redford as the hedonistic Sir Epicure Mammon who desires nothing less than the mythical stone – and to get his leg over where he may.  John Cummins makes a zealous Ananias, and there is plenty of ridiculous posturing from Tom McCall’s Castril and Tim Samuels’s Surly, in disguise as a Spanish popinjay.

The action is fast, furious and farcical, aided and abetted by some judicious cuts to the text (courtesy of Stephen Jeffreys) and the whole enterprise is pervaded by a sense of fun.  Polly Findlay directs her company assuredly, keeping them on the right side of exaggeration and timing the surprises to perfection.  Long before the time Lovewit (a charming Hywel Morgan) returns and commandeers the proceeds of his butler’s schemes, we are won over by Face, thanks to an agreeable performance by Ken Nwosu, and are glad he (spoiler alert) gets away with it.

At the end, Nwosu strips off his period livery to reveal a Ramones T-shirt and jeans.  He tots up the takings of the evening’s full house and is pleased.  We have all been ‘gulled’ by yet another disguise, or Face, and we thank him for it.  Human nature has no changed a   bit.  Fools and their money are still parted, but tonight we have got the better end of the deal.

The Alchemist

Cheeky Face (Ken Nwosu) – Photo: Helen Maybanks.

 

 

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Monk-y Business

ETERNAL LOVE – The Story of Abelard and Heloise

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 25th February, 2014

 

English Touring Theatre and the Globe are touring this excellent Howard Brenton play in a show that has all the production values you expect.  The costumes alone (over a hundred of them) are impressive, denoting character, place and period in the absence of detailed scenery and props.  The set evokes the Globe theatre itself with its musicians’ gallery, two entrances and a concealed area, adding to the historicity of the piece.

The plot tells of real-life star-crossed lovers Abelard and Heloise although there is just as much emphasis on religious and philosophical debate, both of which give the couple a bit of bother.  David Sturzaker is a likeable Abelard, fired up by his Aristotelian teachings as much as he is by his lust for Heloise (Jo Herbert), who, remarkably for the era, is an inquisitive, literate and educated girl.  As we side with the couple, we side against the religious fanatics, epitomised by bonkers Bernard, a vomiting, foot-licking monk – a gripping performance by Sam Crane.  Things fall apart for the lovers and they end up taking holy orders and spending most of their lives apart.

Sturzaker, Herbert and Crane are supported by a hard-working ensemble.  Edward Peel impresses as Heloise’s uncle Fulbert and the cast play the rich humour of the script to perfection, balancing it against the cruelty and horror of some of the scenes.  John Cummins is very funny as Alberic and Julius D’Souza suitably imperious as a Louis VI who reminded me of Henry VIII.

The production is a delight from curtain to curtain.  Hard-working musicians (William Lyons, Rebecca Austen-Brown, and Arngeir Hauksson) on period instruments provide an evocative soundtrack, although Brenton’s dialogue is very much of today, without resorting to slang and buzzwords that will date very quickly.  Director John Dove imbues his production with the feel of a Kneehigh production – which is no bad thing at all.

The play’s a discussion of the use of religion as an instrument of power.  Still relevant today is the ongoing battle between reason and fanaticism, and the role of bigotry and oppression in legislation.  Beware giving power to fanatics, the play says.  When I see laws being passed around the world in places like Uganda and even Kansas and Arizona, it feels like a rebirth of the medieval era – an anti-Renaissance.

An absolute gem of a show, Eternal Love isn’t heavy-handed with its ideas; amusing and emotive, it’s a very satisfying night at the theatre.

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Touching. David Sturzaker and Jo Herbert