Tag Archives: Lisa Dillon

Life in the Roar


Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 16th April, 2014


Shakespeare’s contemporaries Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton teamed up to write this comedy of deception, here brought to the stage by director Jo Davies who uproots the action to the late 19th century. This makes for a good-looking production designed by Naomi Watson with men in tails and curios in glass cabinets. And it makes sense – the cross-dressing, ‘roaring’ girl of the title brings to mind novelist George Sand and male impersonator Vesta Tilley – although on first appearance Lisa Dillon’s Moll Cutpurse reminds me of a Brosette. Why the music and songs (by Simon Baker and Gary Yershon) are so anachronistic, including electric guitars, is beyond me. If it’s meant to be an alienation device, it worked by yanking me out of the atmosphere of the play, but it didn’t work in terms of reminding me this is artifice and I should be intellectualising about the morality of the situation… All I thought was how the music doesn’t fit. I would have chosen snatches of music hall songs to cover transitions, but what do I know?

There is much to enjoy in the performances of the players. David Rintoul is superbly indignant as the scheming Sir Alexander, contrasted by the exuberant and fresh-faced scheming of son Sebastian (Joe Bannister). Christopher Middleton is suitably pompous as Neatfoot the butler, a walking thesaurus, and I particularly enjoyed Mr and Mrs Openwork (Tony Jayawardena and Harvey Virdi) as a pair of scheming tailors. Everyone is involved in scheming at some point, making for very shallow drama and characters for whom you don’t give a fig. Some scenes are very funny (double entendres in a tobacconist’s) but some of the action is fudged by the inconsistent quality of the staging. I’ve said it before, in venues like the Swan, you have to keep the cast moving so that everyone gets a chance to see their backs; don’t leave them downstage looking upstage, masking the action for a large section of the audience.

Lisa Dillon doesn’t so much roar as swagger. Her Moll is a posturing principal boy with painted-on stubble. You can imagine her as Peter Pan very easily. She shows a nice line in comic timing but you get the feeling the role isn’t much of a stretch for her.   She makes an apology in an epilogue for the thinness of the plot and the quality of the production – the playwrights’ last joke. But then the company regroup for an ill-advised bout of street-dancing that is just embarrassing.

I wanted to like The Roaring Girl more than I did. I guess I’ve been spoiled by recent exposure to the superior work of Spanish contemporary Lope de Vega.

Lisa Dillon

Lisa Dillon

Strange bedfellows

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Monday 6th February, 2012

The set for Lucy Bailey’s production consists of turning the entire stage into a bed, a big brown bed. Actors can lift up the covers and scurry around like mice under a blanket. This they do in-between scenes and it loses its charm faster than you can say ‘dutch oven’.

It begins with an “Induction” – a sequence in which a drunken slob (think of Toby Belch selling the Big Issue) is gulled into believing he is in fact a lord, with wife and servants, and even a group of travelling players come to perform. He, Christopher Sly (a grubby Nick Holder) settles down in bed to watch the play. Come the second half, this framing device is dispensed with altogether and Sly goes behind the scenes in a quest for his underpants. Having treated us to views of his bum and cupping his genitals in a saucepan, he is reunited with his grundies. “Pants!” he cries out in triumph. By this point, I was more than ready to agree with him.

This is a heavy handed production with the subtlety of someone else using your bed as a trampoline. Kate – the ‘shrew’ – (Lisa Dillon) is a Tasmanian devil of a woman, brawling, spitting, even pissing standing up. Tracey Emin would consider her a bad bedfellow. She is ‘tamed’ by David Caves’s Petruchio, a sort of Irish Jim Carrey figure, who, rather than ‘curing’ Kate of her wilfulness, shows her he can operate at her level. It is a meeting of minds rather than the imposition of a husband’s will on a wife’s. The inference is that this wild and oh-so-unconventional pair are better off than the straighter couples. Kate ‘submits’ to Petruchio and he ‘submits’ to her. They dash upstage, tearing at their clothes, for a meeting of bodies. I found myself not caring in the slightest.

There is another plot, involving the courting of Kate’s sister Bianca. This is a contest between swains involving deception and swapping identities that has Bianca as the prize. There is some good comic playing from Gavin Fowler as Lucentio in disguise as a nerdy Cambio, Huss Garbiya is a lively and likable Biondello, and I also liked Elizabeth Cadwallader’s playfulness as Bianca but on the whole you get the feeling that everyone is trying too hard. There is little to contrast with the madcap dashing around and vulgarity, no change of tone from the raucous and the low. I found it impossible to engage with, like the only sober one at a booze-up.

The running time seems excessive. Rather than taming a shrew, it is the audience who is beaten into submission. It is like being caught up in someone else’s pillow fight and they have stuffed their pillow with bricks.