The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 17th April, 2018
This hit production from the National Theatre/Chichester Festival Theatre/Headlong comes to this town and reminds this reviewer of its brilliance. James Graham’s script, dealing with the behind-the-scenes, Machiavellian machinations of the Chief Whips of both main parties, mines a rich seam of humour. It is the 1970s and Labour has a minority government. All the stops have to be pulled out to win over the ‘odds and sods’ to vote on the government’s side.
It’s a macho – or rather, blokeish world of hard drinking, hard swearing immaturity, where tradition is held in awe but nothing more so than the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’. The opposing sides wind each other up, one-upmanship is king and fair play hardly gets a look-in. It’s a chess game on a massive scale, with the Chief Whips sniping at each other like rival head prefects.
Martin Marquez is excellent as tough-talking Labour whip, Bob Mellish, with William Chubb’s Humphrey Atkins as the perfect sneering foil over on the Tory side. Graham characterises both sides in broad terms: the Labour lot are beer-swilling, down-to-earth working class men with ‘real jobs’ in their backgrounds; the Tories are privileged, entitled snobs. Tony Turner’s Michael Cox remains decent in his desperation, while on the other side, Harry Kershaw’s member for Chelmsford makes a prissy and hilarious impression. There is a running joke about apologising for swearing in front of that rare creature, a female MP – Natalie Grady’s Ann Taylor soon proves she can give as good as she gets, and there is a delicious turn from Louise Ludgate as the member for Coventry South West, silently doling out the cash to pay a fine.
Labour’s Walter Harrison (James Gaddas) and his oppo Jack Weatherill (Matthew Pidgeon) share a mutual if grudging respect for each other and each other’s methods in a relationship that encapsulates the cut-and-thrust of party politics at that time. Meanwhile, off-stage, rises the spectre of evil that will poison politics for decades, like Voldemort gradually taking physical form, as the member for Finchley, unseen, climbs the ranks to Tory party leader, ultimately becoming prime minister. As the lights fade, an extract from Thatcher’s inaugural speech brings the fun and games to a chilling end…
Director Jeremy Herrin maintains a cracking pace, keeping the barbed remarks and the fur flying, eliciting energetic performances from his ensemble. A live band keeps the energy levels up, with short and long bursts to cover transitions or to underscore the more stylised sequences depicting the arcane rituals of the House.
It’s a hilarious piece, a satirical cartoon of a show recounting a remarkable time in British politics, but be aware: the current mob who occupy This House for real are not playing for laughs.
Best of frenemies: James Gaddas and Matthew Pidgeon (Photo: Johan Persson)
Leave a comment | tags: Chichester Festival Theatre, Harry Kershaw, Headlong, James Gaddas, James Graham, Jeremy Herrin, Louise Ludgate, Martin Marquez, Matthew Pidgeon, Natalie Grady, National Theatre, review, The REP Birmingham, This House, Tony Turner, William Chubb | posted in Theatre Review
The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 22nd June, 2017
Oscar Wilde’s one-act tragedy is far from a particular favourite of mine. I prefer his epigrammatic, frothy word play to the heightened, florid language of this retelling of the Biblical story, where the characters speak mainly in similes and declamations. How refreshing it is when Herodias proclaims, “The moon is like the moon!” – as fed up with the poetic spouting as I am!
Owen Horsley’s production has a decidedly ‘gay’ aesthetic. Herod’s guards could be bouncers in a fetish club (I imagine) but there delivery is mere recitation. The action begins to come to life with the first appearance of Salome herself (a gamin Matthew Tennyson) who speaks her lines as though she means them rather than pompous intonation. Salome is intrigued by Herod’s prisoner, the prophet Iokanann (John the Baptist by another name) played by Gavin Fowler. Iokanann is filthy, clad only in his underwear, but he still catches the young princess’s eye. He rejects her advances – with fatal consequences. What I don’t get is why he is permitted to continue giving his ominous predictions – if characters like Herod and Herodias find his words so annoying or insulting, why didn’t they gag him, at least? Oh well. His prophecies add to the sense of impending doom, I suppose.
Rants in his pants: Gavin Fowler as Iokanaan (Photo: Isaac James)
Fowler is an agile Iokanann, filled with the wild conviction of his beliefs, while Suzanne Burden’s wearily glamorous Herodias is a fine comic counterpoint. Matthew Pidgeon is imposing as the hedonistic Herod, and there are some fine, compelling moments: for example, a spot of contemporary dance depicting the grief of the Page (Andro Cowperthwaite) for the death of Assad Zaman’s Young Syrian. The music by Perfume Genius is pulsing and vibrant, with the energy of clubland, which works well to underscore the action. Singer Ilan Evans, a world-weary M.C. adds torch-song resignation to events as they unfold.
But it is Matthew Tennyson’s Salome that holds the attention. Seemingly fragile, almost bird-like, he evokes rather than impersonates the female. His dance is a high-energy, jerky affair, reflecting the lust of Herod and his court – Polly Bennett’s movement direction brings angst and tension and above all expression to Wilde’s difficult exchanges. Tennyson is boldly defiant – Salome is accustomed to using her wiles to get her own way but is also strong and stubborn enough to stand her ground when denied. She is determined to kill the thing she loves – ooh, that sounds familiar… The story culminates in horror as Salome remonstrates and coos with the head of the man who rejected her advances.
A rather patchy affair, I’m afraid, this tale about unrequited passions, but on the whole I think I enjoyed the production more than the actual play.
Wilde at heart: Matthew Tennyson as Salome (Photo: Isaac James)
Leave a comment | tags: Andro Cowperthwaite, Assad Zaman, Gavin Fowler, Ilan Evans, Matthew Pidgeon, Matthew Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, Owen Horsley, Perfume Genius, Polly Bennett, review, RSC, Salome, Stratford upon Avon, Suzanne Burden, The Swan Theatre | posted in Theatre Review