A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 9th June, 2019
The Crescent’s summer touring production this year is Shakespeare’s enduring romantic comedy with a supernatural twist, and I am lucky enough to catch an indoor performance rather than brave the vagaries of the British summer!
This is an enjoyable, accessible production – Director Georgina Evans opts for modern-dress on a simple set of slender branches and fairy lights; although, I do find the draconian laws of Athens at odds with the familiarity of the attire. I think more needs to be made of the sheer unreasonableness of the patriarchy here (Marry whom I tell you to or be celibate for the rest of your life) and poor Hermia (Charlotte Thompson) needs to be more terrified/upset/resentful/what-have-you at the onset, so that when Lysander (the excellent Jacob Williams) steps forward with an escape plan, it comes as more of a relief, a desperate measure for desperate times. Hold up, I did say this is a comedy… In Shakespeare, a comedy is where the problems of the drama are overcome by the characters (as opposed to tragedy, where the characters are overcome by the problems). After this dark and severe (and potentially tragic) opening, the fun and frolics in the forest should come as sharper contrast. Evans has an eye for comic business, and it’s the little details, the interplay, the fleeting expressions, that bring the joy to this production.
Ollie Jones is Duke Theseus – he warms into the role as the play goes on, lacking the imperious tones and power of Andrew Cowie’s magnificent fairy king Oberon (special mention to Angela Daniels for his striking costume and headdress). Aimee Ferguson is a subdued Hippolyta, yet this conquered Amazon is not shy to express her views, through action, while Shady Murphy’s Titania is a dynamic presence. Les Stringer brings gravitas as the unreasonable Egeus, softening into a kind of Polonius figure when he is finally overruled by the Duke.
Charlotte Thompson has her moments as Hermia – particularly the slanging match with Jessica Shannon’s marvellous Helena. Jordan Bird is a pleasing Demetrius, vying with Jacob Williams’s Lysander – both do the lovestruck fool bit rather well. Dayna Bateman is thoroughly charming as the hardworking Puck, whose meddling in mortal affairs does not always go to plan.
The Mechanicals are a likeable bunch, led by ‘Rita’ Quince (Nicole Poole) with Scott Wilson’s Flute blossoming into a sublimely ridiculous Thisbe, towering over a diminutive Pyramus (Crescent stalwart James David Knapp having a crack at Bottom, so to speak). Knapp’s comic instincts are sound and I’d say he could afford to be even more bullish as Bottom dominates the group’s rehearsals.
While there are some line-readings that don’t quite come across, on the whole everyone handles the language rather well and with conviction, which is no mean feat when there are scenes comprised of rhyming couplets. Of course, the play-within-a-play provides the most laughs – it’s one of the funniest scenes in Shakespeare, in all theatre, probably, and the company do an excellent, raucous job with it. There’s a lovely celebratory feel to the closing moments and a rousing song to finish. Funny and sweet, the show would perhaps benefit from starker contrast between the dark and light to intensify the impact of both.
Top Bottom: James David Knapp (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)
Leave a comment | tags: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Aimee Ferguson, Andrew Cowie, Angela Daniels, Charlotte Thompson, Crescent Theatre Birmingham, Dayna Bateman, Georgina Evans, Jacob Williams, James David Knapp, Jessica Shannon, Jordan Bird, Les Stringer, Nicole Poole, Ollie Jones, review, Scott Wilson, Shady Murphy, William Shakespeare | posted in Review, Shakespeare, Theatre Review
ALICE IN WONDERLAND
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 4th December, 2018
Director James David Knapp brings his own adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic to the stage in this ponderous production. This is an Alice who wonders about things rather than at them, as she is presented with riddles and cod philosophies from almost all the strange characters she encounters.
Ruth Waterson, making her Crescent debut, gives an assured performance as Alice, playing her as a serious, thoughtful child. She comes to life when she joins in with the other characters: the caucus race, for example, and the Lobster Quadrille. If Alice, our guide through this weird land, is so serious, the characters she encounters should be weirder, crazier, but they’re a bit po-faced too.
There is a lot to enjoy from the large cast. Marcus Clarke’s Dodo shakes his tail-feathers and has a mad spark in his eye; later, his King of Hearts is delightfully dotty – he could do with a crown, though. Erin Hooton’s twitchy White Rabbit, John Paul Conway’s snooty Knave, Niall Higgins’s Mock Turtle… Standing out is Molly Wood’s Duchess, a bedraggled eccentric, convincingly bonkers. Jordan Bird’s Mad Hatter makes an arch, camp double act with Carl Foster’s March Hare, along with a fearsome French Dormouse (Ella-Louise McMullan) keeping them in check. There is a delicious portrayal of the mad Queen of Hearts by Alice Macklin, capricious, volatile, tyrannical, truly psychopathic, and bringing a lot of oomph to the second act. But I think I enjoy most of all the trio of gorblimey gardeners, played by Amelia Hall, William Stait and Ronnie Kelly.
James David Knapp provides a new twist in the tale. It’s not easy bringing Carroll’s plotless novel to the stage to make a coherent piece, but Knapp provides a through-line – the material is on his side, with the disclaimer that not everything has to make sense. He has clearly drilled his ensemble of children very well – every one of them is in step and focussed, which is no mean feat.
The costume department has excelled itself. The designs of Dyjak Malgorzata combine what we expect of the characters with some innovative ideas, with the assistance of Vera Dean and Pat Brown to craft these wonderful creations.
The show works best during its absurd moments, rather than when Alice is being exhorted from all corners to ‘grow up’ – when she is clearly the most mature character on stage. The production values, the talent, the ideas are all there. All it needs, overall, is to lighten up, to – as Alice’s draconian mother is reminded to do – let its hair down.
Off her head: Alice Macklin as the Queen of Hearts (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)
Leave a comment | tags: Alice in Wonderland, Alice Macklin, Amelia Hall, Birmingham, Carl Foster, Crescent Theatre, Dyjak Malgorzata, Ella-Louise McMullan, Erin Hooton, James David Knapp, John Paul Conway, Jordan Bird, Lewis Carroll, Marcus Clarke, Molly Wood, Niall Higgins, Pat Brown, review, Ronnie Kelly, Ruth Waterson, Vera Dean, William Stait | posted in Review, Theatre Review
ONE MAN TWO GUVNORS
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 23rd September, 2018
Richard Bean’s hit comedy is served up with gusto by director Mark Payne and his energetic ensemble. Set in Brighton in 1963, this is a world of gangsters, scrap metal merchants and lawyers, where the height of sophistication is ‘a pub that does food’.
Leading the cast as the hapless Francis Henshall is Damien Dickens, who puts his own stamp on the role, making it less James Corden and more Adrian Chiles. Dickens has the unenviable task of beating himself up, which he manages with aplomb, and I warm to him as the performance progresses. He could do with some padding to make more sense of the references to the character’s bulk.
Naomi Jacobs is absolutely perfect as Rachel Crabbe in disguise as her late twin brother Roscoe, and she is matched in brilliance by Shaun Hartman as her love interest, Stanley Stubbins. This pair are Henshall’s two guvnors and it is from the contrivances of the plot that keep the bosses separate that most of the farce arises.
Graeme Braidwood convinces as patriarch Charlie ‘the Duck’; Hannah Bollard is pitch perfect as Henshall’s love interest Dolly in an arch and assured performance, while Jason Timmington’s declamatory actor Alan Dingle is also enormous value. Lara Sprosen’s Pauline is winningly dim. There is strong support from John O’Neill as Lloyd Boateng, Jordan Bird as Gareth, and Brian Wilson as Harry, but the show is almost stolen from the leads by a brutally slapstick performance from Jacob Williams as doddering octogenarian Alfie who bears the brunt of the comic violence.
The set, by Megan Kirwin and Keith Harris, is stylish and functional without being fussy so the cast has plenty of room to run around in. Vera Dean’s costumes evoke the era effectively – although Harry Dangle’s sleeves could do with turning up!
Payne paces the action to maximise comic effect. The asides are delivered with pinpoint timing and Bean’s hilarious script, brimming with brilliant lines, is given the energy and punch it needs to make it work.
A splendid production that is laugh-out-loud funny from start to finish, proving there is still plenty of mileage in long-established comic tropes (the play is based on an 18th century Italian piece) and demonstrating yet again the wealth of talent on and off the stage at the Crescent. I had a boss time.
Damien Dickens and Jacob Williams fail the audition for Help The Aged (Photo: Graeme Braidwood)
1 Comment | tags: Birmingham, Brian Wilson, Crescent Theatre, Damien Dickens, Graeme Braidwood, Hannah Bollard, Jacob Williams, Jason Timmington, John O'Neill, Jordan Bird, Keith Harris, Lara Sprosen, Mark Payne, Megan Kirwin, One Man Two Guvnors, Rachel Crabbe, review, Richard Bean, Shaun Hartman, Vera Dean | posted in Review, Theatre Review