Tag Archives: Leander Deeny

Cavalier Attitudes


The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 12th October, 2016


Loveday Ingram’s exuberant production of Aphra Behn’s raucous comedy is almost a reversal of The Taming of the Shrew, in which a wayward character (here, the titular Rover) is brought to heel by the machinations of another (the wily Hellena).  In the Shakespeare, the shrew is completely cowed and rendered submissive; here it is more of a meeting of minds, a matching of appetites.  Things are on a more egalitarian footing from the off – in fact, it is the females who rule the roost, in terms of plot devices and spirit.

Joseph Millson is marvellous in the title role.  His Willmore is a swaggering braggart with ratty pirate hair and an Adam Ant jacket.  He exudes bluster and charm in equal measure.  He is outrageous and irresistible.  Faye Castelow’s Hellena is adorably lively and witty.  As her sister Valeria, Emma Noakes is a livewire, while other sister Florinda (Frances McNamee) is more elegant but none the less funny.  Patrick Robinson is suitably noble and upright as good guy Belville, but things take a darker turn when the gauche Blunt (Leander Deeny), gulled by a prostitute, seeks violent revenge on any female who happens across his path.  Even in these scenes, Ingram keeps the energy levels high – this is a show performed with unrelenting verve and brio.  The cast are clearly enjoying themselves immensely, transmitting that sense of fun to us, the lucky audience.

The carnival atmosphere is propagated and maintained by the superlative music, composed by Grant Olding, and performed live on stage throughout the action.  The Latin rhythms are infectious, the Spanish guitar, the muted trumpet – every note is delicious.  If the RSC doesn’t release a CD, they’re missing a trick.

A highlight for me is a flamenco-off between Dons Pedro and Antonio (Gyuri Sarossy and Jamie Wilkes, respectively); another is Alexandra Gilbreath’s melodramatic courtesan, holding Willmore at gunpoint – there is a wealth of things to enjoy in all the comings and goings, the disguises, the misunderstandings and the mistaken identities.  It’s fast-paced, rowdy, riotous fun, performed with gusto and charisma by a vivacious ensemble.  Ultimately, Millson dominates with his colossal presence, but we love him for it and egg him on.  Willmore is flawed, at the mercy of his appetites – indeed, the men are victims of their own desires – but Behn celebrates human frailties without moralising.  She was way ahead of her time.


Wild Rover: Joseph Millson as Willmore (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)



Life of Spy


Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 9th October, 2013


Based on a story by Joseph Conrad, this adaptation by Matthew Hurt and Theatre O, is a 90-minute melange of theatrical conventions, some of which work better than others.  In a rather gothic, Victorian/Edwardian setting by designer Simon Daw, the story unfolds of Adolf Verloc (George Potts) an agent who has infiltrated an anarchist gang.  He is tasked with the job of bombing the Greenwich Observatory in order to foster a climate of fear within the public – it all sounds starkly relevant to today’s world of terrorist scaremongering and TV’s Homeland!  It all goes horrifically wrong and the fall-out from an accidental explosion leads to mourning and murder.

Potts is rather engaging as Verloc, with a nice line in Music Hall singing.  The show could do with more of this.  Later on we get a snatch of Blue Moon to cover a scene transition – the numbers provide uplifting contrast to the dark subject matter with its rich vein of dark humour.

There are movement sequences of heightened and repeated actions that express what the dialogue does not.  There are animated projections like chalk drawings of doors and windows, reminding us of the story-ness of the, um, story.  These devices add to the mood and feel of the piece.  Other tricks mar the general effect.  There is an ill-advised scene in which half a dozen volunteers are recruited from the audience to sit in at a meeting, eat biscuits, nod their heads and repeat lines, in a Generation Game kind of manner.  It takes us out of the sinister quality of the material – it is already strongly implied that we, the audience, should not be so complacent and sit there accepting everything.  The production is a call to direct action, to get up and do something to stop the rich fatcats from taking everything… but this message peters out.  We get caught up in the beauty of the production and the effectiveness of technique rather than stirred to bring an end to social injustice.

Leander Deeny is larger-than-life as Vladimir, setting Verloc his task in a funny absurdist scene.  Helena Lymbery provides two contrasting characterisations as the Mother and an anarchist Professor, but Carolina Valdes stands out as Winnie.  Her moments of stillness are as expressive as her choreographed movements.

A hodgepodge of conventions, The Secret Agent looks good and is not without its shocks and surprises, but its bag of tricks is inconsistent in its effectiveness.  You leave the theatre, reflecting on moments of theatricality rather than anything the content might have to say.

I would have liked a bit more Music Hall too.