Tag Archives: Lucy Bailey

Wilde at Heart

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 21st October, 2014

A glance at the cast list for this touring production leads one to think, ungallantly, that they’re all a bit, well, long in the tooth for Oscar Wilde’s comedy about a pair of young Lotharios.  The company is evidently aware of how they will be perceived and so the Wilde play is framed within another play about a bunch of middle class amateur thesps gathering for a rehearsal of The Importance in somebody’s house.  I remember Hinge and Bracket doing something similar yonks ago.

And so, in fits and starts the “Bunbury Players” present the opening act.  In sub-Noises Off fashion things go wrong on and off stage, only here instead of sardines it’s cucumber sandwiches that go astray.  I appreciate why this framing story (written by Simon Brett) might be necessary but it’s excruciating and gets in the way of dear old Oscar’s genius.   Where this production comes alive is when they let Wilde have his head and scenes are performed with vim and gusto uninterrupted by contrived ‘mistakes’.

Nigel Havers is at home in either play as the womanising Dicky who plays Algernon.  It’s the kind of smarm and charm that has become his trademark and there is even a hint of sending himself up.  With Martin Jarvis as a white-haired but nevertheless energetic Jack Worthing (supposedly 29 years old) there is some very funny verbal sparring.  We overlook their advanced years and enjoy the play for itself.

Sian Phillips makes a formidable Lady Bracknell, while Cherie Lunghi convinces as young Gwendolen, up against Christine Kavanagh’s spirited Cecily.  Some of the comic business director Lucy Bailey has them do is a little heavy-handed.  Wilde should be kept frothy but barbed.

Niall Buggy is a treat as Reverend Chasuble to Rosalind Ayres’s neurotic Miss Prism.

After the interval, the ‘interruptions’ no longer trouble us but there remains an abiding sense of tension that at any minute, something ‘hilarious’ will ‘go wrong’ and deflate the delicious soufflé the actors are working hard to create.

Mercifully, it doesn’t and every member of the cast proves there is not only life but talent and ability in this pack of old dogs.  The result is an amusing evening with the biggest laughs going to Wilde’s dazzling epigrams, but I would prefer it if they hadn’t pandered to ageism and just played it ‘straight’.

Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis

Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis

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Phoning it in

DIAL M FOR MURDER

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 13th May, 2014

 

Frederick Knott’s taut 1950s thriller is given an excellent revival in Lucy Bailey’s production, currently playing at the REP.  It is very much a period piece and Bailey does well to preserve the 1950s feel while giving her production a fresh contemporary-retro atmosphere.  This is due in no small part to Mike Britton’s glamorous red set with its stylish 50s furniture and translucent walls and curtains.  There are two revolves: on one stands the furniture; from the other, a curtain hangs.  Both revolve slowly, almost imperceptibly, at various times during the action – it’s like seeing the inner workings of a machine, the cogs of Knott’s plot at work, as the villain sets his wicked plan in motion and the playwright winds up the tension.

Daniel Betts is suitably urbane and smarmy as the villainous, betrayed husband Tony Wendice, who enlists old school acquaintance and bit of a wrong ‘un, Captain Lesgate (a very good Robert Perkins) to bump off his cheating wife.  The plan hinges upon a telephone call at the crucial moment – hence the title – and when the violence takes place, it is all the more shocking for its stylisation.  Fight direction by Philip d’Orleans is complemented by unsettling contributions from lighting designer Chris Davey and sound design by Mic Pool.

Even though I have seen this play staged before, the new lease of life given to it by this production, meant I was still enthralled and thrilled.  Bailey doesn’t let the stylish presentation get in the way of Knott’s superbly crafted script.

Kelly Hotten is appealing as intended victim Mrs Wendice, looking every inch the 50s starlet under Chris Davey’s cinematic lighting.  Philip Cairns is her lover Max, making it easy to see why Mrs Wendice prefers him to her husband.  Christopher Timothy tops off this tight ensemble as determined Inspector Hubbard who worries away at every detail of the case like a dog with a bone, until the truth is brought to light.

Wordy passages of exposition are counterbalanced with wordless moments of action – Knott knew exactly what he was doing and this production clearly demonstrates why this play is a masterpiece of the genre.

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Kelly Hutton is asked about her PPI (Photo: Manuel Harlan)


A sad tale’s best for winter

THE WINTER’S TALE

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 6th February, 2013

 

Lucy Bailey’s production of Shakespeare’s fairytale for grown-ups hits the spot, thanks to a no-nonsense approach and a straight-faced telling of what is essentially a far-fetched and melodramatic narrative.  She allows the humanity of Shakespeare’s characters to flourish despite the exotic nature of their circumstances.

William Dudley’s design concept impresses from the start.  A video screen fills the back wall, showing an ever-changing seascape, a kind of mood ring that reflects and supports the emotional changes in the story.  The court of King Leontes is a bohemian affair (well, it is Bohemia!).  Patterned carpets and cushions are strewn across the scene and on these, the king and his courtiers lounge around in this calm before the storm.  With the hookahs and the turbans, it’s all very Byronesque.  Leontes quickly proves he is mad, bad and dangerous to know.

As Leontes, the king driven to distraction by misplaced jealousy, Jo Stone-Fewings is entirely credible.  His rapid descent into delusion unfolds before our very eyes, triggering a disastrous series of events.  He is convinced his wife Hermione (Tara Fitzgerald) is having-it-off with his lifelong bezzie mate, Polixenes ( Adam Levy) and that the child she is carrying is not his own.  The scene in which he publicly accuses and denounces the queen is shocking in its violence.  A swift punch to her belly reverberates around the auditorium. – only minutes before we may have been tutting at the drag she takes from Polixenes’s cigarette!

In this pre-Jeremy Kyle setting, the only way Leontes can discover the truth is to despatch a couple of men to consult the Oracle.  They return with the mythic equivalent of DNA results: the queen is innocent, Leontes is a jealous twerp, et cetera.  They also bring the dire warning: Leontes shall have no heir until that which is lost is found… Here Shakespeare puts the audience in god-like omniscience: we know the baby, abandoned in the wilderness, has been found… There is something comforting in this knowledge, and curiously, it doesn’t rob the play of its tensions.

Tara Fitzgerald as the much-wronged Hermione is very strong.  Her delivery is as though she is thinking up the lines on the spot, her mind racing to make sense of the hell she is shoved into, as befits the stress placed on a woman arguing for her life.

With every production of this play, the question always crops up: how will they do the bear?  The famous bear of the famous stage direction.  How will it appear and how will it pursue Antigonus to his exit?  This time, the bear is a bit of CGI animation, arising from the waves on the backdrop like an ursine Poseidon.  Antigonus has to move towards it before he can get off-stage.  A bit disappointing: the bear reminded me of those behind-the-scenes at Toy Story clips, where a character is modelled on screen, before all the surface detail is added.  It seems unfinished.  But this is only a brief moment in a production that is for the most part commendable.

The second half takes place sixteen years later.  Bailey rightly drops the outmoded prologue by Time itself – we have moved to a more modern age.  The romantic, rocky coastline of Bohemia is replaced by a more proletarian pier.  We are in a place of deckchairs and knotted handkerchiefs.  This is an earthy contrast to the court of Leontes.  The locals indulge in a spot of country dancing, clog dancing, morris dancing, and the rough and ready females have at each other like a riot in Prisoner Cell Block H.  By contrast, lost princess Perdita (Emma Noakes, bearing a passable resemblance to the unfortunate Hermione) stands out as someone regal – even if her accent is all ee-by-gum and ‘eckythump.   This is wakes week in a Northern industrial town.  Perdita and her beau (the son of Polixenes, passing himself off as a morris dancer) cannot escape the notice of Polixenes himself, also travelling incognito.  He upbraids and beats up his errant son in a display of offspring abuse that is a running theme in this production.  We have already seen a child abused in utero and subsequently abandoned to its fate.  It seems the grown-ups in the two kingdoms are unreasonably visiting their anger at themselves on their children.

Emma Noakes is charming as the lost-and-found princess.  As Florizel, her dashing boyf, Gavin Fowler has something of a young Josh Groban about him.  I also enjoyed Pearce Quigley’s rather deadpan Autolycus and Daniel Betts’s reliable Camillo.  Rakie Ayola is splendid as the forthright Paulina, speaking her mind and putting the king in his place.  Her mild-mannered husband (Duncan Wisbey as bear-fodder Antigonus) is just as effective in contrast.  As the good-natured shepherds, David Shaw-Parker and Nick Holder bring the warmth and humour that is absent from the court of Leontes.  The king himself is ever-present, atop a rusted tower that is part lighthouse and part helter-skelter, a beacon of his own repentance, a public demonstration of his self-inflicted sorrow.

The resolution is always keenly anticipated.  How will they perform the statue that comes to life? (I told you, it’s a bit far-fetched).  Tara Fitzgerald blinks and stirs as though returning to living form, supporting Paulina’s fiction until the last possible moment and the revelation that the queen has been hiding away for all these years.  It’s always a credibility-stretcher but the scene is so embued with moments of reunion and reconciliation, it works.  In this instance it’s more touching than out-and-out moving, but you leave the auditorium with a warm glow, ready to face the cold air of winter on your cheeks.

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Tara Fitzgerald as Hermione.

Photo by Sheila Burnett