Tag Archives: Jonathan Broadbent

Laughs For Laughs

LOVE FOR LOVE

The Swan theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 11th November, 2015

 

The plot of William Congreve’s comedy of 1694 is almost incidental in this exuberant, vibrant new production, directed by Selina Cadell. What takes precedence is the presentation. The show revels in its own theatricality from start to finish. What, in Brecht, would work to alienate us, here engages us. The very artificiality of it all infuses the ‘world’ of the play. It’s a right old giggle.

Tom Turner’s Valentine, the romantic lead, is languidly camp, until his ‘mad’ scenes when he is manically camp. There is an assurance here in the comic playing. In fact, the entire company play their parts like virtuoso performers: the timing, the reactions, the archness of it all, operate like well-oiled clockwork animating an intricate machine whose sole purpose is to delight. Carl Prekopp makes an energetic Jeremy, Valentine’s servant, Robert Cavanah is an urbane Scandal, while Jonathan Broadbent’s Tattle is a flamboyant, pouting fop. There is no one in this play who is not funny. Nicholas Le Prevost as Valentine’s unreasonable father Sir Sampson is marvellously embittered.  Daniel Easton’s bumptious Ben, Valentine’s sailor brother, is a hoot (There is some spirited choreography of a sailors’ hornpipe by Stuart Sweeting.)  As Congreve’s play is influenced by stock character types, so Selina Cadell’s production is informed by the workings and business of the Commedia dell’Arte.

As Angelica, Justine Mitchell displays some excellent melodramatic posturing, which she punctures in her asides – the audience, especially the front rows, is very much included, as prop holders, costume minders, and butts of pointed remarks. Jenny Rainsford’s Miss Prue is broadly played, in contrast to Angelica’s cultured poise. Congreve provides a wealth of funny roles for women. Hermione Gulliford plays the scheming Mrs Foresight to the hilt. It is one of those pieces where we deplore the characters while revelling in their transgressions and admiring the hell out of the actors.

An underused Michael Fenton-Stevens bears the brunt of the satirical jibes against the legal profession, while Michael Thomas’s superstitious Foresight represents an attack on those credulous enough to give credence to astrology. We can still recognise these targets from society today.

Rosalind Ebbutt’s vivacious costumes and Tom Piper’s toy theatre set convey the period and add considerably to the fun. There is a consort of musicians in a corner, underscoring the silliness, and sound effects and props contribute running jokes. It all makes for relentless fun – so much so that by the end, when all the plots have been resolved, we are not touched by the denouement.   There is so much laughter here there is no room for sentiment and that is perhaps this production’s only shortcoming, yet there is a moment of stunning beauty thanks to the countertenor singing of Jonathan Christie.

I have a lot of love for Love For Love.

Legend! Nicholas Le Prevost as Sir Sampson Legend (Photo: Ellie Kurtz)

Legend! Nicholas Le Prevost as Sir Sampson Legend (Photo: Ellie Kurtz)

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Absent Friends

MY NIGHT WITH REG

Apollo Theatre, LONDON, Saturday 24th January, 2015

 

Before Russell T Davies brought thitherto unseen aspects of gay life to the TV screen with the ground-breaking series Queer As Folk, Kevin Elyot wrote this acerbic comedy of manners that must have in some way blazed a trail for Davies to follow.

On the surface, it’s a conventional three-act play but it’s the content that marks Reg out as something new. The characters are gay men of different types gathering for a dinner party in the London flat of mild-mannered loner Guy – this disparate bunch is united by the threat to their way of life that first reared its hideous head in the early 1980s: the spectre at this feast is AIDS, which like an invisible villain, does away with people they know.

It turns out that the characters have something else in common. The eponymous but never seen Reg has touched a lot of… hearts, shall we say.

Secrets come to the fore, relationships come under strain and lives are changed forever, in Elyot’s snappy and witty script where the one-liners come thick and fast, so to speak.

As loner Guy, Jonathan Broadbent cuts a sympathetic figure, consumed by his unspoken, unrequited love for John – a dashing Julian Ovenden, who captures the character’s shallow vanity and selfishness perfectly. But even John has his secrets and passions.

Geoffrey Streatfield’s Daniel is the campest of the lot. His caustic humour barely masks his torment and vulnerability in a striking performance, but it is the arse-achingly boring Bernie (Richard Cant) who touches the heart with his brittle insecurity.

Matt Bardock (formerly behind the wheel of an ambulance in Casualty) is bus driver Benny, a refreshingly blokey note of contrast among these sensitive flowers, like a house brick in a bouquet of roses.

Lewis Reeves is appealing as young ingénue Eric from Birmingham, embarking on his big gay adventure.

All in all, they’re an amusing bunch and director Robert Hastie manages the changes in tone superbly – we’re never far away from a moment of anguish or high drama, and just as close to the next expertly timed wisecrack.  The characters continue to skate on thin ice while cracks appear beneath them and people disappear.

Now something of a period piece, My Night With Reg is worth seeing for more than its significance in theatre history and its depiction of gay lives on stage. It remains an entertaining and relevant piece (AIDS hasn’t gone away, boys and girls) with its tenderness, humanity and bittersweet world-view still intact.

Julian Ovendon and Geoffrey Streatfield

Julian Ovendon and Geoffrey Streatfield


Anarchy in Illyria

TWELFTH NIGHT

Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 26th February, 2014

I don’t mind people ‘messing about’ with Shakespeare, being irreverent and what-have-you.  There’s a lot of fun to be had with this type of thing.  Witness the consistently hilarious output of Oddsocks, for example.   Here, Filter Theatre condense Shakespeare’s rom-com into 90 minutes, embellishing it with gags visual and audible and, for the most part, it’s very entertaining.

The bare stage has the air of a rehearsal space.  Actors and musicians in everyday clothes mill around until the show begins.  A man in white shirt and trainers and jeans makes faltering attempts to utter the play’s famous opening line – and we’re off.  It’s like a beat poetry session in Duke Orsino’s court.  Jonathan Broadbent doubles as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, an energetic, acrobatic characterisation, where switches from one role to the other are achieved entirely by a change of stance.

Sarah Belcher is Viola, borrowing a hat and coat from audience members to effect her disguise as a boy.  She gets Viola’s concealed passion across very well, but playing her own twin brother makes it difficult to pull off the siblings’ eventual reunion.  Liz Fitzgibbon is both deadpan and sensual as Olivia but her servant Malvolio (Fergus O’Donnell) is truly startling, stripping down to yellow socks and Rocky Horror golden trunks and strutting around like a Rolling Stones tribute. Natasha Broomfield is a fun-loving Maria (and a cocky Feste) and Geoffrey Lumb’s Toby Belch is the most immersed in his role, the only one in period costume and affecting to be drunk all the time.

Where it works best is when the group’s ideas complement the action.  The jazz music lends an improvised air to the proceedings. You feel anything could happen.  Unfortunately, it does. There are some deliciously funny moments when Shakespeare and Filter are working in tandem.  At other times, the play is overwhelmed and brought to a standstill, when Filter’s anarchic ideas, sometimes self-indulgent, go on (and on) for too long.  Sir Toby and Sir Andrew’s late-night carousing is one example, culminating with half the audience joining them on-stage for a conga while the other half pass around boxes of pizza.  There then follows an inevitable lull as everyone troops back to their seats.  At moments like this, I just wanted them to get on with it.

My companion, unfamiliar with the play, found it difficult to follow the plot and I imagine he wasn’t the only one.  It’s as though the choice of material is irrelevant and the company are going to do what they like with it anyway.  With a bit of editing, and directors Oliver Dimsdale and Ferdy Roberts reining it in a little, Filter’s Twelfth Night could be consistently hilarious and satisfying.  Let Shakespeare have his head and dress him up in all the comic invention you can muster and you can’t go wrong.

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