Tag Archives: Jonathan Sayer

Crime Pays Off

THE COMEDY ABOUT A BANK ROBBERY

The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 29th August, 2018

 

Mischief Theatre, the group behind the phenomenally successful The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong, is back with this piece in which everything goes right.  Set in 1950s America, there is a B-movie aesthetic to this tale of a diamond heist from a bank in Minneapolis.  Writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields cram their script with quickfire corny jokes – the opening scene in a prison cell sets the bar low (or high, depending on your point of view) from the start.  But such is the conviction of the cast, with their energised, larger-than-life delivery, they get away with even the most groan-worthy lines.

It’s a conventional farce in many respects.  Old-fashioned – and that fashion being the commedia dell’arte with stock characters and ludicrous situations, that develop and grow to the point of absurdity.  There is plenty of double-talk of which the Marx Brothers and Abbott & Costello would be proud.  A lengthy scene in an apartment with a fold-up bed is breath-taking in its complexity.  Later, a scene in the bank with the manager and two imposters outdoes everything that has come earlier for sheer silliness.  A scene in which the back wall becomes the floor, while the robbers crawl through air vents, is hilariously inventive – theatricality is used as another dimension to the sight gags.

Liam Jeavons brings a dangerous edge to the silliness as lead robber Mitch Ruscitti, his efforts forever punctured by David Coomber’s campily dramatic and incredibly thick Neil Cooper.  Damian Lynch is pitch perfect as the gruff bank manager, Robin Freeboys, and Killian Macardie gets more than sufficiently wound-up as stressed FBI officer Randal Shuck.  Jon Trenchard is on the receiving end of most of the slapstick violence, in his role as hapless perma-intern Warren Slax, while Ashley Tucker’s Ruth Monaghan (in this performance) delivers most of the sublime singing that covers the scene transitions.  At the heart of the piece is the love story between the bank manager’s grifter daughter, Caprice (a marvellously funny Julia Frith) and Seán Carey’s petty crook and con artist Sam.  Theirs is a romance of intensely silly situational comedy, but we end up rooting for them all the same.  Oh, and George Hannigan plays Everyone Else – including a solo scene in which he miraculously depicts a fight between three of Caprice’s suitors.

David Farley’s set is both stylish and functional, swiftly changing locations while being solid enough to allow extremes of physical comedy.  David Howe’s lighting heightens the heist-movie feel – there’s a scene underwater that is just beautiful to see.

An unadulterated joy, this is a comedy with plenty for everyone.  The pace never flags so we never lose interest (that’s a banking joke) and then, remarkably, the odd moment of actual drama breaks to the surface – and you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium.  The sillier it gets, the more we marvel at the cleverness of the show’s creators, and the seemingly tireless energy of this remarkable ensemble, who rise to the demands of each moment.

I urge you to get a ticket to one of the funniest shows you will ever see – whatever price you pay is a steal.  And it would be a crime to miss it, etc…

Liam Jeavons, Julia Frith, Seán Carey. Photo Robert Day

Making a withdrawal: Liam Jeavons, Julia Frith, and Seán Carey (Photo: Robert Day)

 

 

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Many Wrongs Make a Right

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Monday 23rd January, 2017

 

Those of us involved in live performance in any way will have stories to tell, usually for comic effect, about moments on stage that have gone awry: a prop that wasn’t there, a missed cue, a technical mishap, or even just the hell of being stranded in a scene with a co-star who is less than competent.  Writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields have gathered all those moments and distilled them into a nightmare – for the actors.  For the audience, it’s a treat.

“Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society” are staging ropey old murder mystery The Murder at Haversham Manor.  Beset from the start by difficulties, they battle on to the bitter end, incurring injury and embarrassment along the way.  Patrick Warner plays director Chris Bean, bringing a touch of Basil Fawlty to his moments of extremis.   He also appears as Inspector Carter – our pleasure comes from seeing his characterisation slip as his desperation and exasperation grow.  Edward Judge is a delight as bombastic Thomas, declaiming in plus fours, while Alistair Kirton shamelessly plays to the gallery every time a bit of posturing receives approval.  Before long he has gained confidence and is gesturing and gesticulating like a semaphore signaller.  Meg Mortell flits around in the ingénue role until a mishap causes her to be replaced by a clueless stage manager who soon becomes violently possessive about her new role.  Jason Callender makes for the most mobile and expressive corpse you will ever see, and Edward Howells’s butler, hopeless at pronunciation, is consistently hilarious.  Add to the mix, Graeme Rooney’s less-than-conscientious lighting and sound operator and the drama that unfolds is not the one the drama society would like us to see.

Instead, the tension comes from watching this talented cast perform feats of physical comedy that are painfully funny.  We cringe at the awfulness of their plight, marvel at the way they get out of situations, and gasp at the surprises that crop up in their path.  Director Mark Bell manages the mania and the descent into chaos, giving us shocks and suspense, both of which we relish.

An unadulterated pleasure to have the chance to see this show as it tours again, but this time I am struck by what it says about us as humans.  The show-must-go-on mentality is a cliché, but beyond the theatre, this play going wrong can also be a metaphor for human endeavour.  Despite what life throws at us, there is a drive to keep things going, to bring order, to adapt and endure, even if it all comes crashing down around us.  It’s what enables us to survive as a species.

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So Wrong It’s Right

PETER PAN GOES WRONG

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 27th January, 2015

 

This companion piece to the West End hit The Play That Goes Wrong is no less hilarious. We watch with growing marvel and delicious glee as the drama society from ‘Cornley Polytechnic’ plough through their production of the J M Barrie classic.

Most live performances have something that goes wrong – although the audience doesn’t notice most of the time. It’s part and parcel of live theatre: a cue could be missed, a prop might refuse to cooperate… Here, writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, take all those hazards and cram them into a couple of hours of non-stop belly laughs. Scenery collapses, things get stuck or misplaced, and sometimes the sheer incompetence of the actors comes to the fore. Clumsiness and bad luck conspire to wreck the performance. Surprise follows surprise and there are moments of delicious expectation: you know someone’s going to come a cropper; it’s just a matter of time…

Because we know it’s all staged, there is a safe distance at which to enjoy people supposedly incurring terrible injuries. There is something inexorably funny about someone being whacked on the head with a plank. But you sit there thinking how many times can I laugh at this?

Many, many times, it turns out.

The writers are savvy enough to include other factors: the relationships between the actors also add to the catastrophe. There is much to enjoy here along with the relentless slapstick.

Laurence Pears is a hoot as ‘director’ Chris Bean, doubling as Captain Hook and an especially bombastic Mr Darling. His resentment at being treated like a pantomime villain seems heartfelt. ‘Co-director’ Robert (Cornelius Booth) the eldest member of the cast plays Michael, the youngest character. Of course it does – it’s this kind of ‘keep the show going at all costs’ silliness that both rings true and makes you cringe.  Booth also gives an unintelligble pirate whose boat-rowing ‘skills’ have to be seen to be believed.

Leonie Hill’s balletic and melodramatic Wendy overacts and postures, regardless of the demands of the scene. It’s a well-placed parody of the mannered actress, where technique overrides talent. Harry Kershaw’s Mr Smee is an object lesson in lack of stage presence.

Alex Bartram’s Pan battles bravely – not against Hook – but with the technology that is meant to keep him aloft. It’s physical comedy with the added peril of gravity – and there are many good gags involving him crashing into things.

Director Adam Meggido does not let up on the action for a minute. Somehow the chaos prevailing on the stage is choreographed to reach a climax. It’s a dazzling display of skill and focus – never mind the amount of energy expended by the cast.

What emerges is more than a couple of hours of laugh-out-loud fun. Yes, there is the ‘show must go on’ philosophy taken to the extreme, but the show is also a metaphor for the indomitable human spirit. When all around is falling apart, the actors pull through by pursuing their common goal. We should take heart from that whenever the news makes us feel like the world is fast-tracking its way to hell.

Laurence Pears showing bottle as Captain Hook.  Oh yes he is.

Laurence Pears showing bottle as Captain Hook. Oh yes he is.


Things Fall Apart

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 30th April, 2014

 

This absolute treat of a show is doing the rounds before its return to the West End and I advise you to catch it while you can. Basically, it’s a performance – or rather an attempt at a performance – of an old-fashioned whodunit, The Murder at Haversham Manor, the kind of creaky, cliché-ridden stuff that still crops up in summer seasons. The performers are members of a cash-strapped, talent-strapped, dramatic society who soldier on doggedly while all around them props go awry, bits of scenery drop off, lines dry up and actors are knocked unconscious. It’s like Noises Off on paint stripper.

The trick with this kind of thing is to keep the surprises coming and for the most part you don’t see what’s coming. When you do, there’s a delicious tension of anticipation and some remarkable feats of physical comedy. The show brings the house down, Buster Keaton style. It requires a lot of skill to perform so badly so well. This highly skilled ensemble reach Les Dawson-on-the-piano peaks of awfulness in their artistic endeavours and dazzle us with their comic timing and invention. You don’t stop laughing from start to finish.

Henry Shields kicks things off with an apologetic kind of pep talk as the show’s director, before returning to portray Inspector Carter. Shields is Basil Fawlty-esque in stature and evidently a genius of some sort.  Jonathan Sayer is a hoot as declaiming butler Perkins who mispronounces key words; Charlie Russell struts and poses in the ingénue role of Florence; and Dave Hearn delights as Cecil whose ridiculous gesticulations are matched by his energetic clumsiness. Greg Tannahill is murder victim Charles who begins the play dead and hardly stops moving about after that.   Nancy Wallinger’s stage manager has to step in and read from a script, growing fiercely possessive of her role and Henry Lewis clings to the set like a drowning man as the deceased’s brother Thomas. The whole cast delights and shines in this hilarious example of teamwork.

Nigel Hook’s set design is the star turn of the piece, and the unfolding chaos is orchestrated to perfection, highlighting the incompetence and panic of the ‘actors’ by director Mark Bell.

Amid the laughter, I wonder what it’s all about. Notions of a crumbling society striving to keep traditions going surface in my mind, but above all this is one of the funniest nights you can spend in a theatre, enjoying a show that celebrates theatricality by exposing all its artifices in bizarre and ridiculous extremes.

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