Tag Archives: Lillian Henley

Bostin’ Austen


The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 8th November, 2017


Not the Donald Trump story but Jane Austen’s finest and funniest novel, brought to the stage in this touring production by Regent’s Park Theatre, in a sparkling adaptation by Simon Reade.

Reade captures the wit of the dialogue and the spirit of each character, and director Deborah Bruce includes moments of broader comedy, as well as linking scenes with stylised sequences that evoke both period, character and storytelling.  Choreography plays a huge part in creating atmosphere and adding to the fun, courtesy of movement director Sian Williams and beautiful, haunting music composed by Lillian Henley.  The characters, dressed by Tom Piper, inhabit the elegant revolving set (designed by Max Jones) – decorative railings and sweeping staircases serve for all locations, aided by Tina Machugh’s expressive lighting.  Production values are high and the excellent cast lives up to them.

Felicity Montagu is in superb form as Mrs Bennet, desperate to marry off her five daughters to whomever crosses their path.  Matthew Kelly is equally delightful as her long-suffering husband and the indulgent father of his brood.  Of the girls, Hollie Edwin certainly looks the part as the pretty one, Jane, and Mari Izzard bounces around as the spirited one, Lydia.  Of course, it is Elizabeth who is our focus, winningly played by Tafline Steen, tempering Elizabeth’s headstrong nature with charm and humour.  Benjamin Dilloway towers over proceedings as a sour-faced but handsome Mr Darcy and it’s not long before we are willing the pair to get together, in this quintessential rom-com.

There is strong support from Steven Meo as the insufferable parson Mr Collins and Daniel Abbott is a suitably dashing and roguish Mr Wickham.  Dona Croll impresses as the haughty Lady Catherine De Bourgh, a forerunner of Lady Bracknell, and I also like Kirsty Rider’s snobbish Miss Caroline.

Elizabeth and Darcy may be the stars but it is the double-act of Montagu and Kelly, two seasoned performers with exquisite comic timing, that have the star quality among this comparatively young and inexperienced ensemble.  Mr and Mrs Bennet are a joy to behold.

Delivered with a lightness of touch, this is an utterly charming evening at the theatre, a refreshing retelling of the classic tale.  Austen seems as fresh and funny as she ever was and her wry observations of human nature, albeit in a rarefied and bygone milieu, still delight and ring true.


Felicity Montagu and Matthew Kelly stealing the show (Photo: Johan Persson)

Riotous Fun


Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Tuesday 12th February, 2013


In the big city, the problem of child crime is growing to epidemic proportions.  Gangs tear around the streets, running riot and causing mayhem.  The Mayor hits on a plan to sedate them all with Granny’s Gumdrops, sweeties laced with drugs.  It’s a temporary measure and a one-size-fits-all approach – your children will be taken and drugged regardless of their conduct.

Agnes Eaves and her daughter Evie move into the tenement building at the heart of the trouble on Redherring Street.  Agnes’s plan to tame the children with encouragement and sessions of collage-making is woefully inadequate.  It falls to her distant admirer, the caretaker of the building, to rescue Evie from the official kidnappers, a task that incurs no small sacrifice on his part.

This bizarre, gothic narrative is presented by the stylish and inventive 1927 theatre company in an enchanting evening of wit and whimsy.  The three actors are supported by a cast of animated characters and creatures, projected onto three white screens.  3D and 2D characters interact with each other in a skilful display of timing and creativity.  Paul Barritt’s animation is charming and expressive, the perfect accompaniment to Suzanne Andrade’s engaging script – the story has something of Lemony Snicket about it but there is a very English sensibility at work here.

The score is by Lillian Henley – one of the cast plays the piano throughout the show, glimpsed through a window in one of the screens.  The music is tuneful and evocative of the changing moods of the story.  The lyrics are clever and very funny.

The actors (Sue Appleby, Lewis Barfoot and Eleanor Buchan) perform in white face – this allows them to adopt a range of characters and lends an element of mime and even silent movie acting to their performances.   Their timing is impeccable.  They each display skills in physicality and clowning, it would be churlish for me to single any of them out for praise.  Of the many amusing characters though I particularly liked the caretaker, sweeping along to a mournful narration, and the exotic lady who openly sells all manner of stolen goods in her shop.  Between them, the cast and the drawings create a view of a quirky society, a storybook world with only a passing resemblance to our own… Or has it?

The satire of the piece is subtle.  Like other fairytales it has a message for us in the real world.  The criminal gangs of children are regarded the same as the infestation of cockroaches in the tenement, to be tackled with widespread application of chemicals that do not solve the problem.  The deprived kids are to be kept in line, denied of encouragement and aspirations.  The status quo will prevail.  Another outbreak of riot and criminality cannot be long in coming.

The play successfully integrates all its components – actors, animation, music and narrative all combine to make an intricate and entertaining whole.

Writer and director Suzanne Andrade is a genius.  She has created a splendid confection, like a sour but delicious sweetie.  I am looking askance at the little packet of Granny’s Gumdrops given to me by an usherette in leopard print before the show began.