Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 20th October, 2019
David Haig’s play is set the weekend before D-Day – a date enshrined in history, but of course, at the time they didn’t know exactly when the Normandy invasion would take place. And that’s the crux of the plot. General Eisenhower is relying on weather forecasts to predict the best conditions for making his move and sending 350,000 men into danger. One expert is predicting fair weather, another says there’s a storm coming. But who is right? And which way will Eisenhower jump?
Martin Tedd’s Dr Stagg is a grumpy Scot, a Victor Meldrew of a man, but he knows what he’s talking about. His certainty of his own knowledge and experience contrasts with the uncertainty around his wife going into difficult labour with their second child. But Stagg is under lockdown at Southwick House and is powerless to help. Tedd is good at Stagg’s short temper but he stumbles sometimes with the specialist language, phrases that should trip off the tongue. His American counterpart, Colonel Krick is played with assurance by Robert Laird.
Alexandria Carr is marvellous as the only female character in the piece, Lieutenant Summersby – her accent matches her period hairdo, and she performs with efficiency, showing the human behind the British aloofness.
The mighty Colin Simmonds portrays Eisenhower with a blunt kind of charm, exuding power easily and bringing humour to the piece. As ever, Simmonds inhabits the character with utter credibility and nuance. It feels like a privilege to see him perform.
There is pleasing support from Griff Llewelyn-Cook as young Andrew, and from Crescent stalwarts Dave Hill and Brian Wilson in some of the smaller roles.
Director Karen Leadbetter keeps us engaged with all the jargon flying around by handling the highs and lows, the changing weather of human interactions, with an ear for when things should be loud and when quiet, and when silence is most powerful.
The simple set, in wartime greens, gives us a sense of time and place, and is enhanced by John Gray’s lighting – especially for off-stage action, like an aeroplane in trouble, for example. The room is dominated by the charts, huge maps with isobars swirling across them, and you marvel that the technology of the time was adequate for its purpose.
This is a solid production of a play that sheds light on an esoteric yet crucial part of the war effort. Haig has obviously researched his subject matter extensively and manages to tell the story without being overly didactic or preachy.
Alexandria Carr and Colin Simmonds feel the pressure (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)
Leave a comment | tags: Alexandria Carr, Birmingham, Brian Wilson, Colin Simmonds, Crescent Theatre, Dave Hill, David Haig, Griff Llewelyn-Cook, John Gray, Karen Leadbetter, Martin Tedd, Pressure, review, Robert Laird | posted in Review, Theatre Review
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.
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.
Leave a comment | tags: Andrew Lowrie, Angela Daniels, Colin Judges, Colin Simmonds, Crescent Theatre, Equus, Jess Shannon, Jo Hill, John Gray, Josh Scott, Peter Shaffer, Phil Leonard, review, Ron Barber Studio, Sam Wilson, Stewart Snape, Zena Forrest | posted in Review, Theatre Review