Tag Archives: Maureen Lipman

More Rabbit Than Sainsburys

HARVEY

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 10th February, 2015

Mary Chase’s 1944 play is better known for the James Stewart film version – this revival reveals a sharper script from a female playwright, that rare beast (especially in those days).

It tells the story of a widow and her daughter who live with their brother and uncle respectively, one Elwood P Dowd. The man causes them no end of social embarrassment because of his best friend, the eponymous Harvey. The problem is Harvey is a (to us) invisible white rabbit over six feet tall. The widow tries to get her brother committed to a sanatorium so that the house will become hers – and a slew of comic incidents ensues, involving mistaken identity and some farcical running around.

The upshot is a delightful, charming and very funny evening, expertly played by a company with faultless comic timing.

Maureen Lipman is dream casting as the widow Veta, conveying her stress-induced dottiness along with some beautifully nuanced physical comedy. As disgruntled daughter and proto-teenager Myrtle Mae, Ingrid Oliver brings humour and a touch of Forties chic. There is a host of strong character actors: Amanda Boxer makes an impression as Miss Chauvenet, and Linal Haft makes the most of his cameo as an embittered cab driver. In the ‘meatier’ roles, Youssef Kerkour is a hoot as hired muscle Wilson: an imposing presence, Kerkour uses his physicality to contrast with his character’s softer side.

The excellent David Bamber’s Dr Chumley works himself up into a froth in hilarious scenes, sustaining this heightened delivery and displaying a nice line in double takes, while Jack Hawkins and Sally Scott play doctor-and-nurse and add to the confusion attractively.

James Dreyfus in the James Stewart role of Elwood lends his characterisation a laid-back, camp manner and it works like a charm. His offhand gestures to his unseen friend help us to ‘see’ the rabbit. Elwood is sweet, open-hearted and generous – when it is revealed that Dr Chumley’s cure will suppress not only his hallucinations but his good nature, making Elwood just like a normal human being (“and you know what bastards they are”) it is decided that a giant rabbit is not such a bad thing to have around the house after all. The most important thing is to be kind, the play reminds us.

PeterMcKintosh’s substantial yet revolving set grounds the action in its own reality, lending credibility to the settings so that Elwood and Harvey seem more at odds with this ‘normality’.   Matthew Scott’s lovely, wistful music gives the transitions a bittersweet feel, perhaps lamenting that the world isn’t like the play but we wish it was; to have Elwoods and Harveys around would make the world a better place.

Director Lindsay Posner keeps things ticking along at a sometimes gentle pace – some moments could do with a bit more intensity to accentuate the farcical aspects, but the cast are allowed to have their head and, above all, Chase’s sparkling script is revealed as an overlooked jewel of a comedy. A feel-good piece that tickles the imagination as much as the funny bone.

"You got an ology?"  Maureen Lipman  (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

“You got an ology?” Maureen Lipman (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

 

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Three Step

DAYTONA

The REP, Birmingham, Monday 21st October, 2013

It’s the 1980s and in their New York apartment, septuagenarians Joe and Elli rehearse for an imminent dance competition.  They bicker and question each other in the manner you might expect from an old Jewish couple – every line is laced with humour, despite the mutual annoyance and sarcasm.  Playwright Oliver Cotton captures the cadence and his cast deliver the lines with credible accents (only one of the three is an actual real live American).   Their evening is disrupted by the unexpected arrival of Joe’s long-lost brother Billy, not seen or heard of for thirty years.  Billy has a tale to tell and a crime to reveal…

As curmudgeonly Joe, Harry Shearer has a strong presence and stillness, given to emotional outbursts as the situation demands (spoiler: I wouldn’t like to be his corned beef sandwich).  Maureen Lipman is wife Elli, thoroughly believable as a long-suffering, mature woman, who lights up when she dances.  The advent of Billy brings out past history and unresolved resentments as well as providing the couple with a present-day moral conundrum.  John Bowe dominates as loud-mouthed, hard-drinking Billy, firing off monologues with great energy and spellbinding delivery.  David Grindley directs the contrasts, the loud and the quiet moments, the emotion and the humour, as though conducting a trio of virtuoso performers – which, in fact, is what this cast of three is.

The play is about trying to make amends – Billy tries to atone for a wrong in the past with another wrong in the present.  Joe and Elli struggle to see his point of view.  The play is also about living a lie, about living without what would make you happy, about settling for second best and the sadness that can lead to.

As a piece of theatre it’s hardly innovatory.  What we get is a solid, well-written, somewhat old-fashioned piece that touches and amuses us, and gives us something to think about.  Performed by this excellent cast of veterans, it becomes a couple of hours that intrigues and interests and, every now and then, grips.

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Dance in the old-fashioned way… Maureen Lipman and Harry Shearer


No Socks, Please, We’re American

BAREFOOT IN THE PARK
Malvern Theatres, Tuesday 10th April, 2012

Maureen Lipman appears in and directs this Neil Simon comedy from the early 1960s. Simon is a prolific writer often called the American Ayckbourn. I would say he is more of a diluted Woody Allen. He uses the patterns and rhythms of New York speech with a strong Yiddish influence. This kind of fast-talking, prone to hyperbole, sarcastic talk is very funny but, almost fifty years on, it has lost what edge it might have had. What we get instead is an amusing, comfortable evening at the theatre. It’s like watching an elderly pet cat being playful.

The plot concerns the first couple of weeks of married life of a young, up-and-coming lawyer and his wife. He, Paul, (a handsome Dominic Tighe) is a bit of a stuffed shirt, who expends a lot of energy ‘kvetching’ – he’s like Woody Allen played at the wrong r.p.m. I would have liked an increase in the speed of his delivery when he became more worked up, even at the expense of diction. He’s just a little too controlled all the time, even when he gets off his tits on scotch towards the end.

Faye Castelow is young wife Corrie and has something of the young Tracey Ullman about her. She is the yin to Paul’s yang but again I would have liked her a little more flighty and skittish, a little more Bohemian, to make the contrast between them all the sharper. This Corrie was a little one-note for me. At the end, when the roles are reversed and he is wigging out on the ledge outside the window of their penthouse flat, and she is taking charge of the situation, how far they have come (and I don’t mean up the five flights of stairs) could be made more apparent. He has loosened up and has actually been walking barefoot in the park, something his wife has been advocating all along. She has realised there is more to marriage than furnishing an apartment or running about with no shoes on. The curtain falls on him teetering on the high ledge with her calling to him, about to climb out and assist. Here, Simon gives us a metaphor for the precariousness of marriage. It’s a tightrope that both parties need to walk together if they are to avoid plummeting towards divorce. It’s an ending that manages to be heart-warming and downbeat at the same time.

Maureen Lipman plays Mrs Banks, Corrie’s mother. The stage lights up when she appears, to prove her talent at character-based and also physical comedy. Her exhausted entrances, having climbed the five flights (and a stoop!) to the apartment are hilarious but never over-the-top. Oliver Cotton is the dashing and exotic neighbour, Victor Velasco, and the play really comes to life when either of these two appear. Their scenes together are the highlights, deftly played, bringing the warmth and humanity of the characters to the fore. Their characters are more rounded, shaped by life experience. The younger couple have less to them, attractive and amusing though they are – they learn about themselves as the action progresses. It’s the difference between grown-ups and kids, I suppose.

It’s not so much a matter of going barefoot in the park – it’s more like revisiting a comfortable pair of slippers. But all in all, it’s an evening of gentle comedy that has aged well – unlike another revival from the same era I endured in this same venue exactly a week before!