The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 1st March 2022
Adrian Lyne’s hit film from 1987 is brought to the stage by screenwriter James Deardon, updating the setting to include mobile phones and emails, but basically staying true to the story. The film gave us the term ‘bunny boiler’ to denote an obsessive ex – the merest mention of the rabbit elicits titters of delighted expectation…
In the role of the ‘temptress’ Alex Forrest is Kym Marsh who is, pure and simple, excellent. Marsh brings vulnerability and fragility to Alex’s extreme behaviour. Society has moved on (a little bit) since the film and we tend to be more compassionate toward mental illness and to look more favourably at independent women who work, rather than seeing them as the 80s threat to men’s roles.
It’s easy to regard the protagonist Dan Gallagher as the villain of the piece. He is easily tempted off the straight and narrow while his wife is away for the weekend. Oliver Farnworth has the unenviable task of keeping us engaged with Dan’s tribulations. There is a lot of ‘serves him right’ going on here. Farnworth hardly ever leaves the stage and is our narrator, so we get to hear how Dan justifies his actions to himself, even if we’re not buying it. As a leading man, Farnworth navigates murky waters – the play throws up moral questions on all sides – and he shows us why Alex would be attracted to Dan, the good looks, the charm, even though we don’t agree with his choices.
As wronged wife Beth, Susie Amy shows fire and righteous fury. I understand she is soon to take over the role of Alex; it’s easy to imagine her as an excellent fit for the part. John Macaulay brings humour as Dan’s friend Jimmy, and there is strong support from Anita Booth as mother-in-law Joan.
In the second act, the action comes to the boil – like a rabbit in a pot of water – and the sound and video designs become more expressionistic. Loveday Ingram’s direction maintains tension levels, even when we know what’s coming. Dearden reverts to an early draft of the screenplay to restore his original ending, which capitalises on Alex’s love of Madam Butterfly. This is thematically satisfying but denies Beth the chance to stand up and fight for her family unit.
This is a stylish and classy adaptation of the well-loved film. I’m so glad it isn’t a musical!
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)