Tag Archives: Matthew Ganley

Let’s Go Round Again

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Thursday 29th June, 2017

 

First produced in 2013, this eye-popping show gets a well-deserved revival with the added plus that, like its protagonist, it’s going on tour.  The New Vic is its in-the-round spawning ground so I’ll be interested to see how this largely visual show fares in an end-on setting – but that’s a consideration for another time.

Jules Verne’s time-honoured story is, we must remember, a satire of the English by a Frenchman.  His hero, Phileas Fogg is the quintessential eccentric, a stickler and unfailingly polite.  Embodied by the marvellous Andrew Pollard, he is also very funny.  Pollard can express so much with stillness – it’s all in his stature; the turn of the head, the jut of the chin, can say so much.  He is partnered once again by rubber man Michael Hugo, a Roger Rabbit of an actor, pulling off superhuman feats of physical comedy.  Hugo’s Passepartout is an endearing fellow, with a mischievous schoolboy twinkle and a Charlie Chaplin expressiveness.  You can’t help but love him.

They are joined on their journey by dozens of characters, all adeptly and economically presented by a hard-working and skilful team.  Pushpinder Chani charms as Mr Naidu, Simi Egbejumi-David thrills with his acrobatics, and Joey Parsad delights in a range of 21 roles!

The pair are pursued by the misguided, hapless Inspector Fix whose frustration and despair are hilariously portrayed by Dennis Herdman, shouldering most of the tension of the piece as Fix fails repeatedly to get his man.  Matthew Ganley is striking as the gun-toting American general.  Kirsten Foster brings elegance as rescued widow Mrs Aouda – Laura Eason’s adaptation saves the emotional moments for the very end of the tale in a touching, convention-defying proposal scene.

Scenes of the finest physical comedy you will ever see – a punch-up in a temple, a martial arts showdown – are underscored by James Atherton’s miraculous music: all the scenery is in his score, as drama and pacing are coloured by international sounds and rhythms.  It’s as thrilling and effective as any action movie soundtrack and as important a part of the show as any of the cast.  Lis Evans’s design, all maps and bulky suitcases, allows for rapid changes of costume and location, while making us feel included and along for the ride.  And what a ride it is!

Sleight of hand, quick changes, slow motion and a host of other theatrical tricks and conventions are brought to the mix by genius director Theresa Heskins.  No detail is overlooked and it seems to me this time around, the sound effects have been punched up for added comic effect.  The timing is impeccable.  In fact, every aspect of the production is impeccable.  It all runs with the mathematical precision Phileas Fogg espouses, yet it comes across as fresh and funny and full of heart.

Seeing it in 2017 adds a piquancy no one could have foreseen.  Fogg gets his way by throwing large sums of money around – all right, he doesn’t go as far as bribing the DUP but you can see where I’m going with this.  At least it’s his own money, I suppose!  And freedom of movement is not an issue!

On the road for the next seven months, the show is visiting venues up and down the country, so you have no excuse.  If it’s theatrical invention, humour and imagination you’re seeking, this signature production from the New Vic is a safe bet.

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Hold on to your hat! Andrew Pollard (standing), Pushpinder Chani, Michael Hugo and Dennis Herdman

 

 

 

 


Winter Wonderland

THE SNOW QUEEN

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Saturday 26th November, 2016

 

Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale is given the Theresa Heskins treatment in this beautiful new version that continues the New Vic’s impeccable tradition of superlative Christmas entertainment.  Heskins’s adaptation improves on the original, in my opinion, by giving the Snow Queen a backstory.  We understand why she is the way she is by seeing how she became the bogeyman, a legend used to frighten children.  The play begins with a sweet courtship scene between the awkward Soren Sorenson (a sweetly clumsy and tongue-tied Oliver Mawdsley) and Karen, the object of his affection.  They skate around the issue – literally: the cast wear inline roller skates to glide around – and come to an understanding, only to have tragedy strike, putting their romance on ice.

Polly Lister gives a chilling performance as the icy, mournful ghost.  Everything about her is striking, the voice especially.  Once again, we are treated to a magnificent score by genius composer James Atherton, and Lister’s voice is the strongest of the night.  Her scenes with Kai (Luke Murphy) are reminiscent of Edmund and the White Witch of Narnia, and there are echoes of other tales, other myths: Summer’s garden, on which Gerda becomes trapped, is like Circe’s island, and the three puzzles Kai must solve remind me of icy Turandot’s riddles with their one-word answers.

Natasha Davidson is an appealing heroine/narrator as the plucky yet bookish Gerda.  Books form the scenic elements here, great slabs like ice floes.  There is a running theme that storybooks are at least as valuable as factual ones.  The Dickensian, Gove-like education meted out by Schoolteacher (Rachael Garnett) is not enough to get children through life and its problems.  Creative thought is vital to our survival.

It’s a stunningly beautiful show, visually, thanks to Laura Clarkson’s set (the stage floor is especially important to the story), Lis Evans colourful Danish-Victorian chic costumes, and Daniella Beattie’s magical lighting design; and aurally, courtesy of Atherton’s evocative compositions, played on stage by the talented actor-musicians.

The splendid leads are supported by equally strong ensemble members.  Matthew Ganley’s Bitzer, for example, and Rachel Dawson’s Robbergirl, help to populate Gerda’s account with engaging characters.  Heskins’s direction includes her trademark ‘distance fighting’, a kind of non-contact violence that is expressive, effective and fun, and there are also stand-out sequences, like the toboggan race, the flight of the Snow Queen, and a stunning backwards scene – Heskins puts the performer at the heart of her stage effects.  She gives the design and tech teams challenges (which they meet, no question) but she is essentially an actors’ director and, above all that, a consummate storyteller.

Ultimately heart-warming, this is the perfect entertainment for a chilly winter’s night.  You leave the theatre feeling cosy and warm.  It’s the simple, uncomplicated things of life that make you feel good, especially at this time of year – I suppose this is the hygge that’s all the rage these days, something that Hans Christian Andersen knew all about.

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Frozen assets: Polly Lister as the Snow Queen (Photo: Andrew Billington)


Funny Lass

OUR GRACIE

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Thursday 7th April, 2016

 

In co-production with Oldham Coliseum, the New Vic presents this jaunty take on the life story of one of the first superstars, Rochdale’s own Gracie Fields, tracing her rise from rags to riches, and then from riches to more riches.  What sets this show apart from other biographies that tell a similar tale, is the revue-style presentation.  An ensemble of actor-musicians populates scenes between a host of songs – the scenes are much like sketches, and the actors portray a range of characters.  The lynchpin is Fields herself – Sue Devaney, graces us with a breath-taking performance, evoking the original northern powerhouse in voice and mannerisms.  Devaney captures Fields’s down-to-earth, lowbrow stylings but impersonation is not the point.  What we get is a whistle-stop tour of key events in the entertainer’s life.  Like many of these stories, the first half deals with her rise to the top, and in the second, having achieved success, personal issues come to the four: Gracie’s marriages, her health problems.

Everything is handled with a light touch – even when she is hospitalised with cancer, a kind of seaside postcard humour prevails, deflecting from the drama with moments of heightened theatricality – if you sit on the front row, you may be asked to lend your name to a walk-on character who doesn’t have one.

Kevin Shaw’s direction keeps things bouncing along and the cast singing as they go – the ensemble voices are lovely in harmony, and each member of the company is a versatile musician.  Musical director Howard Gray achieves a period sound from this talented band of actors.

Among the ensemble, Fine Time Fontayne shines, in his element as George Formby (complete with his voyeuristic hit song about a window-cleaner); Liz Carney is especially strong as Gracie’s lifelong friend – she also does a star turn as Edith Piaf; Jonathan Markwood amuses as Gracie’s Italian second husband – as does David Westbrook as her handyman third, while Ben Stock’s uproarious Liberace is laugh-out-loud funny, and Matthew Ganley’s high-speed Hamlet soliloquy is a wonder to behold.

But, inevitably, Sue Devaney dominates, housing gigantic talent in her diminutive frame.  Her Gracie Fields comes across as a home-grown Fanny Brice, combining the ability to belt out songs with camp humour.  She has her downs as well as her ups, but everything is dealt with in such a light and appealing way, it seems that life really is a cabaret.

It’s undemanding fare, to be sure, but as theatre-for-pleasure goes, it doesn’t get much better than this.  Like Sally in Fields’s signature song, this is right up my alley.

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I see you, baby, shaking that aspidistra. Sue Devaney as Gracie Fields (Photo: Joel C Fildes)

 


Life Cycle

BERYL

The REP Studio, Birmingham, Tuesday 24th November, 2015

 

Going in, I felt a little guilty for not knowing who Beryl Burton was. Mercifully, Maxine Peake’s affectionate portrait of the cycling star assuages such feelings from the get-go: cast members fess up to never having heard of her before either.

So begins a race through Beryl Burton’s life story, beginning with childhood (including serious illness) to meeting her future husband and joining his cycling club. Charlie Burton becomes her soigneur, coach and mechanic. Gradually, Beryl’s wins stack up, world records are broken, an MBE… an OBE… And yet she was largely ignored by the national press at the time. The same treatment of women’s sport still lingers to this day, forty years on, it has to be said – although things have improved with some disciplines like women’s football.

A cast of four deliver Peake’s consistently amusing script – the blend of humour and heart make her something of a Yorkshire Victoria Wood. Each actor shares the narration and plays several parts, displaying versatility with apparent ease.   Samantha Powell plays Beryl with down-to-earth determination while Lee Toomes is her ever-supportive husband Charlie. Rebecca Ryan is both Beryl as a child and Beryl’s daughter Denise, who herself becomes something of a name in cycling, while Matthew Ganley is very funny in a variety of roles that includes an air stewardess and a German policeman.

It’s all fast-paced and energetic, and slicker than a wet road. Director Rebecca Gatward employs a range of theatrical conventions to enhance the storytelling, keeping the visuals varied. Lighting (David Holmes) and sound and video (Mic Pool) help the cast convey the idea of cycling in a range of conditions and circumstances. The onstage bicycles may be static but the staging certainly is not. It’s a story of good old British pluck and success through dogged determination, persistence and support. Our admiration for Beryl grows in tandem with our awareness of her remarkable achievements.

Sweet and funny, this production puts a smile on your face right from the start and keeps it there.

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Samantha Power is Beryl in this West Yorkshire Playhouse production