Tag Archives: Jon Trenchard

Rome About

VICE VERSA

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 14th June, 2017

 

Phil Porter’s new play ‘borrows’ heavily (to put it mildly!) from the works of Roman comic genius Plautus – Porter is by no means the first to do so; everyone from Shakespeare to Frankie Howerd has been influenced by Plautus’s outlandish plots and larger-than-life character types.

Colin Richmond’s set is a painted representation of two Roman houses – the artificiality is undisguised, as a prompt to tell us we are not in the real world.  In this world, characters are broadly drawn, driven by particular foibles and appetites.  First among them is General Braggadocio (Felix Hayes), a swaggering braggart, a vain, posturing despot – clearly ripe for duping.  Hayes chews his lines with bombast and relish in a massively enjoyable performance.  He quotes and paraphrases Donald Trump – which should tell you all you need to know about what kind of dreadful, narcissistic idiot he is.

Running rings around him is Dexter, the cunning, conniving slave.  This is the Frankie Howerd role, played here by Sophia Nomvete, a hugely likable presence full of charm and warmth.  Her schemes are ludicrous but we take delight in watching them work out, as Dexter copes with each new obstacle that is thrown in her path.

Aiding and abetting (but mostly hampering and hindering) are fellow slaves, Feclus (a hilarious and tightly wound Steven Kynman) whose desperation and frustration are a lot of fun, and  Omnivorous (Byron Mondahl) who, as his name gives away, eats a lot but is at his comic best when he is pissed off his face.

Geoffrey Lumb’s handsome but dim young lover, Valentin, is a wide-eyed twit, while his other half, the general’s concubine Voluptua gives the performance of the night.  Ellie Beaven is the cream of this very rich crop of comedic talent, flitting between characterisations with impeccable timing and nuance – and it’s not the kind of show where you expect much nuance!

There is superb support from Nicholas Day as game old codger Philoproximus and a star turn from Allo Allo’s Kim Hartman as raddled old prostitute, Climax, hurling herself into Dexter’s schemes with energy and style.  Jon Trenchard reinforces the silliness of the whole enterprise, scampering around as Braggadocio’s monkey Terence (named for the other famous Roman playwright, I’ll wager).

Director Janice Honeyman doesn’t miss a trick to keep the laughs coming thick and fast, and much fun is had with some well-placed anachronisms.  Roman comedy gives us the opportunity to mock those who would oppress us, while championing the little guy and revelling in the indomitable human qualities of ingenuity and wit.  It’s not the plots we come for but the playing.  And this production delivers some exquisitely funny playing indeed.

Vice Versa

Up Stratford! Felix Hayes and Sophia Nomvete (Photo: Pete Le May)

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Much Fun About Plenty

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Stafford Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford Castle, Thursday 2nd July, 2015

 

Shakespeare’s finest and funniest rom-com comes to Stafford Castle in this new production directed by Peter Rowe. While the cast sings music hall songs, we find the set and the setting rather striking. Dawn Allsopp’s elegant stage, with trimmed lawns and a classical pavilion is bedecked with union flag bunting – to celebrate the return of the troops from the War. Behind and above this is the ruined castle, adding to the sense of England gone by (even though the play is nominally set in Messina).

Any Much Ado is only as good as its Beatrice and Benedick. In this one they are a mature couple: imagine Caroline Quentin and Boris Karloff – that’s a bit harsh, perhaps. Philip Bretherton’s Benedick is not so much a silver as an arctic fox and a bit stern, while Sherry Baines’s Beatrice is a little bit matronly. The pair are none the less witty for all this and it makes sense. They have spent their lives avoiding and railing against marriage and only come to find each other late in life: it adds poignancy to Beatrice’s lines about everyone else getting married but her and shows that love can keep us all young at heart.  You can’t help but like them.

Tom Palmer is a tall and dashing Claudio, capricious but not without conviction. He is especially good in the wedding scene and so is his intended Hero (Catherine Lamb). In fact, it’s the best scene of the night: Peter Rowe delivers the surprise and the tension. He could make more of the comic eavesdropping scenes, nicely played though they are. Edward York’s Leonato is delightfully hopeless at deception and yet heart-breaking when denouncing his daughter. Jake Ferretti’s Don Pedro is full of fun, in marked contrast to his whining petulant brother, Don John – the villain of the piece (Jon Trenchard).

Phylip Harries is a Welsh Dogberry and a very funny one. The scene in which he instructs the watchmen is glorious nonsense, a forerunner of the ‘awkward squad’ we still see in pantomimes today – and it’s gratifying to hear Shakespeare’s lines still getting laughs. They could do with another one or two men though, to flesh things out.

James Hague sings sweetly as Balthasar in a lovely version of Sigh No More, Ladies. As Don John’s henchmen, Dan de Cruz’s cheeky chappie Borachio makes a strong contrast with Charlie Tighe’s Conrade.

This is a satisfying production, not exactly innovative (but then, why tinker just for the sake of it?) and offers much to enjoy.

much ado


Bowing and Scraping

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 15th October, 2013

 

Craig Revel Horwood directs this new touring production of the classic musical and shows us exactly why it is a classic musical.  His production has a twist – the cast play instruments on stage, a trick that was all the rage a few years back (I remember a particularly fine Mack and Mabel) but here it fits in with the action almost seamlessly: the violins, guitars, flutes and clarinets are the more portable instruments but after a while you don’t notice that one of Tevye’s daughters is lugging a cello around with her.  The cast prove themselves as quadruple threats: they act, sing, dance AND play instruments.  Everyone else in musical theatre better up their game.

The first half –as long as a feature film but doesn’t seem it- establishes Tevye, his family and the community of Russian Jews, and is rich with warmth and humour – most of which stems from the wise-cracking Tevye (Paul Michael Glaser – yes, that’s right: STARSKY himself!).  Well-known songs keep on coming: Tradition, Matchmaker, If I Were A Rich Man – the richness of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s score offsets the poverty of the characters.  Sunrise, Sunset is absolutely beautiful.  Gradually, cracks appear in Tevye’s world and his adherence to tradition is challenged, stretched and contorted, as each of his eldest daughters pairs off with young men not of his choosing.  Also, pressure from the outside world increases and while the disruption of a wedding at the end of the first act is little more than the overturning of a couple of stools and tables by a mob of two, the threat is established.

The second act is more about the deconstruction of Tevye’s way of life, at home and at large, as his daughters fly the nest and the community disbands.  Still, the sense of humour prevails with some of the funniest lines coming at moments of suffering.

As Tevye, Paul Michael Glaser is magnificent, wholly inhabiting the role and making it his own.  Karen Mann as wife Golde is very strong and touching in a character part and I particularly liked Claire Petzal as daughter Chava, Liz Kitchen as the matchmaker and Jon Trenchard as Motel.  I could go on and list the entire company but really you should go out and catch the show yourself.

As you’d expect from Revel Horwood, the choreography is something to behold, using peasant dances and Cossack moves.  There is a dream sequence that is a lot of fun, a moment of high camp in the otherwise dreary setting – Diego Pitarch’s set centres around the homestead which rotates and opens out like a ramshackle doll’s house.   The costumes remind us of the period, although the theme of people being dispossessed of their homelands and forced to become refugees remains all too current.  Perchik’s revolutionary teachings also have relevance in Broken Britain: “In this world it is the rich who are the criminals”, and even Tevye observes “our old ways were once new” – a message for conservatives everywhere who are resistant to change.

There are the odd moments when everyone dons a false beard to join in with the dancing and Paul Kissaun’s otherwise excellent Lazar looks a bit too much like Hagrid, but on the whole this is a fine-looking, great-sounding production of a show that remains as funny, touching, enjoyable and moving as it ever was, plucking at your heartstrings.

The fiddler on the roof is a metaphor for all of us: life is precarious but we try to scratch out our own tune.

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