Tag Archives: Laurence Pears

Ups and Downs

TAKING STEPS

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Tuesday 10th October, 2017

 

Alan Ayckbourn expertly directs this revival of his 1979 farce, playing in a double-bill with his latest work, A Brief History of Women.  Set in rambling manor house The Pines, Taking Steps has most of the ingredients of classic farce but the traditional element of doors is swapped for two flights of stairs.  The action takes place on three floors of the hours, with characters running, sneaking and hurrying up and down stairs in bids to avoid each other or seek each other out.  And yet, all three floors are set in the same square of stage, with furniture from three rooms sharing the same space.  The stairs are flat, running alongside two sides of the square.  This allows us to see characters in different rooms at the same time, if you see what I mean.  It works like a charm and the added silliness of actors galumphing along flat sets of stairs augments the overall ridiculousness of the plot – which I won’t attempt to summarise here.

Louise Shuttleworth is great value as Elizabeth, a thwarted (and self-deluded) dancer, attempting to leave her husband.  Laurence Pears is also great as her brother Mark, who has problems of his own, not least of which is people falling asleep when he is talking to them.  The heightened accents, a tad more RP than we use today, add to the period feel – the complications would not work in today’s world of smartphones and technology.  Laura Matthews’s Kitty is quickly established as the timid, overwrought former fiancée of Mark, while Anthony Eden’s hilariously inarticulate solicitor Watson is an absolute delight.  Leigh Symonds’s builder Leslie Bainbridge is all-too recognisable from the ‘real world’ but it is Russell Dixon’s overbearing Roland, Elizabeth’s husband, who dominates the piece and its events.  Dixon is marvellous and his Roland has many colours, all of them increasingly blurring as he knocks back the scotch.

The writing is sublime – Ayckbourn’s dialogue can’t be bettered in my view – and there is plenty of physical business as the action winds itself in knots.

Still funny after all these years and performed by a top-notch ensemble, the play reveals human inadequacies in a vastly enjoyable way, and it’s an undiluted pleasure to escape into this highly manipulated world and get away from the unfolding, deteriorating farce that is our current government and the Brexit ‘negotiations’.  Anything that brings hearty laughter in these troubled times is to be welcomed and embraced like an old and much-loved friend.

New-Vic-Theatre_Taking-Steps_image-by-Tony-Bartholomew_1

Laurence Pears and Louise Shuttleworth argue in the bedroom while Antony Eden waits downstairs. (Photo: Tony Bartholomew)

 

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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.