New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 10th January, 2017
Written in 1938, Patrick Hamilton’s taut thriller is a pastiche of Victorian melodrama: an innocent girl is persecuted by an evil man but the intervention of a hero saves her from doom and thwarts the evil-doer’s plot…
Kara Tointon is a picture of innocence as the vulnerable Bella, believing herself to be going around the twist. She is child-like, infantilised by her hubby who manipulates her every mood. Tointon endears herself to us, keeping on the right side of pathetic and making the heightened dialogue sound natural. As her bullying husband, Jack, Rupert Young domineers, exuding evil. What begins as a study in mental cruelty swiftly becomes something even darker as the true nature of the man Bella married is brought to light.
It’s not all darkness: the unexpected arrival of Bella’s saviour in the form of former detective Rough (Keith Allen) brings humour and more than a touch of levity to proceedings. Of course, this accentuates the moments of tension and suspense by contrast. Rough is a breath of fresh air to Bella’s stuffy, shut-in existence, and Allen plays him with relish in a funny and yet compelling portrayal. There is also humour in the roles of the maidservants. Charlotte Blackledge’s Nancy is cheeky to the point of impudence, while Helen Anderson’s Elizabeth is a masterclass in comic playing, doing so much with a simple “Yes, Miss” or “No, Miss”. Wonderful stuff.
David Woodhead’s set design is to be savoured, capturing the oppression of Bella’s existence with a looming ceiling and dark panelling. The set is enhanced by Howard Hudson’s lighting, which renders the action almost sepia at times, like the fading portraits on the walls, and, of course, the all-important gaslight that is so crucial to the plot. The sound design, by Ben and Max Ringham, augments the tension with dissonance, while Anthony Banks’s direction winds up the suspense like a watch spring. Banks reins in the melodramatic excesses to keep the behaviour credible for a modern audience and this high-quality production proves this creaky old drama still has power to thrill.
You can tell it’s working when the villain is booed during his curtain call!
Kara Tointon (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
1 Comment | tags: Anthony Banks, Ben and Max Ringham, Charlotte Blackledge, David Woodhead, Gaslight, Helen Anderson, Howard Hudson, Kara Tointon, Keith Allen, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Patrick Hamilton, review, Rupert Young | posted in Theatre Review
Trafalgar Studios, London, Thursday 7th January, 2016
This production marks fifty years since Pinter’s play was first staged but the script seems fresh as a daisy. Soutra Gilmour’s design suggests an old-fashioned box set with a red frame delineating the limits of the room in which the action takes place, while the sparse furnishings clearly belong to the era in which it is set. We’re back in the 60s but it’s a highly stylised version. Director Jamie Lloyd intersperses Pinter’s more naturalistic aspects with scene transitions of heightened emotion, where Richard Howell’s expressionistic lighting shows us the characters’ internal lives – moments we can only intuit from Pinter’s dialogue. The lighting is accompanied by George Dennis’s loud and dissonant sound design. It’s unsettling, disturbing – almost an aural representation of Munch’s The Scream. It works to emphasise the horror and agony of existence for these people, complementing the air of menace Pinter concocts through words and silence.
Max (the formidable Ron Cook) rules the roost as patriarch to three grown-up sons, two of whom still live at home, along with their Uncle Sam (not that one!). It’s a little world of men without women, angry domesticity and bitter recriminations. Into this dark place, eldest son Teddy (Gary Kemp) brings his elegant wife Ruth (Gemma Chan). What begins as an ‘into the lions’ den’ scenario, deftly develops into a ‘cat among the pigeons’ situation, as Ruth joins the ongoing power struggles and plays the men at their own game. Chan is perfectly cast; cool and aloof, reserved but readable. Kemp is good too, as weak-willed, middle-class prat Teddy, contrasting neatly with his brothers: John Macmillan is aspiring boxer Joey, his speech and thoughts slowed by too many blows to the head, and John Simm is charismatic as slimy Lenny, a dodgy geezer and no mistake. Simm is perhaps a little too likeable; his Lenny doesn’t seem quite dangerous or unpredictable enough. Strong as this lot are, for me it’s Keith Allen that shines the brightest as Uncle Sam, subtly effeminate and arguably the only ‘decent’ character in the piece.
Above all, Pinter’s script reigns supreme. Dark and funny and darkly funny, it utilises naturalistic speech patterns and idioms to hint at and tease out character and back story, leading us to clutch at meaning and significance. The sudden outburst of violence still surprises as much as the use of language delights. The play is well-served by this stylish production, although I would have liked Max’s collapse and capitulation to be more visceral and complete – Ruth usurps his throne, before our very eyes; we should be left with the idea that there is no going back. You can’t go home again.
Gary Kemp, Ron Cook and Gemma Chan (Photo: Marc Brenner)
Leave a comment | tags: Gary Kemp, Gemma Chan, George Dennis, Harold Pinter, Jamie Lloyd, John Macmillan, John Simm, Keith Allen, review, Richard Howell, Ron Cook, Rpontlintli, Soutra Gilmour, The Homecoming, Trafalgar Studios | posted in Theatre Review