Tag Archives: Kieran Buckeridge

Warm and Fuzzy

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Saturday 24th November, 2018

 

This brand-new adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s novel is written by the New Vic’s genius-in-residence, Theresa Heskins, and is directed by Peter Leslie Wild.  It bears all the hallmarks of a great New Vic Christmas show, with the Workshop and technical crew all flexing their creative muscles to translate fantastic worlds onto the stage.  And so, Laura Willstead’s set has painted branches, like illustrations, and sprigs of greenery draped all around.  Tree trunks made of cloth descend from above, like roots probing into soil, to create the Wild Woods… while Lis Evans’s Edwardian costumes give us the pre-WWI period while emphasising the anthropomorphism of Grahame’s characters; ears on hats and tails protruding from trouser seats are all that differentiate species.

With original music by Matt Baker, performed by the cast, the story unfolds, beginning with Alicia McKenzie’s inquisitive Mole setting off on adventure.  She encounters Richard Keightley’s dapper Ratty and their voyage in his boat is positively lovely, with Daniella Beattie’s lighting and projections creating a captivating illusion.  Emma Manton’s Badger, younger and more female than is traditional, is schoolma’am-ish and forthright, but it’s Matthew Burns’s long-suffering Horse who delights the most.  Burns later appears as a cheerfully macabre Jailer, when Rob Witcomb’s ebullient Toad falls foul of the Law.

This Toad is sweet-natured despite his manic obsessions.  Witcomb makes him more of an Ed Balls figure than a Boris Johnson, while Kieran Buckeridge’s villainous Fox is more exploitative and, yes, more than a bit scary.  Even scarier is Sophia Hatfield’s strident Mrs Otter; you would not like to tangle with her.

The whole enterprise is played with exuberance by the talented ensemble.  Their choral singing is enough to melt your heart.  Peter Leslie Wild’s direction keeps things moving, and very much in the New Vic in-house style, with cast members holding up shelves, car wheels and so on, to keep the scenery flowing.  The sequence involving the train is breath-takingly executed, a remarkable piece of physical theatre.

Heskins tweaks the ending a little to give us a timely nudge in these dark days of austerity and isolationism.  Wealth is better shared, Toad demonstrates, better when it’s put to use creating opportunities for the marginalised.  It’s subtly done, augmenting the heart-warming feelings the show has engendered from the start.

Cosy, charming and consistently amusing, this is a family show that makes you feel as warm and fuzzy as the woodland creatures it portrays.

toad

A car getting toad. Rob Witcomb, poop poop!

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Giving Tuppence

THE SECRET ADVERSARY

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 28th April, 2015

 

Agatha Christie plays always prove popular so it’s surprising that no one has adapted the Tommy and Tuppence stories for the stage before now. This touring production by the Watermill Theatre addresses this oversight.

Rather than the naturalistic approach that is reserved for Christie’s courtroom dramas or country house murder mysteries where one location is all that is required, here the set is a multi-purpose stage-within-a-stage and theatricality is heightened. A cast of seven versatile actors populate the tale and provide their own musical accompaniment with on-stage instruments. It is 1920 and we are in London. Post-war austerity is all the rage and there are rumblings of general strikes and revolution in the air.

Unfortunately there are also rumblings in the sound design. Low frequency rumblings that hamper the dialogue. Sometimes traffic sounds and machinery noises can be discerned but the general din underscores the entire production. Perhaps it’s meant to convey a sense of menace. Perhaps it is meant to depict the locations – if so then this is at odds with the non-naturalistic approach of the rest of the presentation. I find it annoying in the extreme and unnecessary, and it saps the comic energy effusing from the players, and I long to stand up and shout, Turn the bloody thing off!

Despite this handicap, the cast delivers a slick and amusing performance, as our two heroes strive to foil a Bolshevik plot to overthrow British civilisation. Garmon Rhys gives us his Tommy, an all-round decent cove, brave and not too much of a drip. He delivers a wonderful masterclass in physical comedy – I now know what to do the next time I am tied to a chair! The charming Emerald O’Hanrahan shows us her Tuppence – an indefatigably plucky young woman up for fun and derring-do. Elizabeth Marsh is stunningly good in a range of roles, from a disgruntled French chef, to a Russian activist and a nightclub performer. Morgan Philpott is excellent value in his roles – indeed, the entire ensemble is superb (Sophie Scott, Kieran Buckeridge, and Nigel Lister, to namecheck those responsible!) unflagging in their energy and comic timing. Director Sarah Punshon captures a flavour of the age and her script co-written with Johann Hari glitters with innuendo and a generous helping of silliness. There are several moments of inventive brilliance: the keyhole scene, for example, and Tommy spying on the conspirators from a skylight… There is much of the brio and style of the long-running West End hit The 39 Steps: Christie’s original is more of a John Buchan adventure than her usual fare.

There is a political message, albeit a satirical one. Why should the rich have everything and the poor nothing? Any attempts to alter this status quo must, of course, be quashed! As the general election approaches, I say we need more unrest and protest, while this tongue-in-cheek production holds up the desire to keep things the way they have always been as something to be mocked, at the very least.

tommy and tuppence