Tag Archives: Max Jones

Bostin’ Austen

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 8th November, 2017

 

Not the Donald Trump story but Jane Austen’s finest and funniest novel, brought to the stage in this touring production by Regent’s Park Theatre, in a sparkling adaptation by Simon Reade.

Reade captures the wit of the dialogue and the spirit of each character, and director Deborah Bruce includes moments of broader comedy, as well as linking scenes with stylised sequences that evoke both period, character and storytelling.  Choreography plays a huge part in creating atmosphere and adding to the fun, courtesy of movement director Sian Williams and beautiful, haunting music composed by Lillian Henley.  The characters, dressed by Tom Piper, inhabit the elegant revolving set (designed by Max Jones) – decorative railings and sweeping staircases serve for all locations, aided by Tina Machugh’s expressive lighting.  Production values are high and the excellent cast lives up to them.

Felicity Montagu is in superb form as Mrs Bennet, desperate to marry off her five daughters to whomever crosses their path.  Matthew Kelly is equally delightful as her long-suffering husband and the indulgent father of his brood.  Of the girls, Hollie Edwin certainly looks the part as the pretty one, Jane, and Mari Izzard bounces around as the spirited one, Lydia.  Of course, it is Elizabeth who is our focus, winningly played by Tafline Steen, tempering Elizabeth’s headstrong nature with charm and humour.  Benjamin Dilloway towers over proceedings as a sour-faced but handsome Mr Darcy and it’s not long before we are willing the pair to get together, in this quintessential rom-com.

There is strong support from Steven Meo as the insufferable parson Mr Collins and Daniel Abbott is a suitably dashing and roguish Mr Wickham.  Dona Croll impresses as the haughty Lady Catherine De Bourgh, a forerunner of Lady Bracknell, and I also like Kirsty Rider’s snobbish Miss Caroline.

Elizabeth and Darcy may be the stars but it is the double-act of Montagu and Kelly, two seasoned performers with exquisite comic timing, that have the star quality among this comparatively young and inexperienced ensemble.  Mr and Mrs Bennet are a joy to behold.

Delivered with a lightness of touch, this is an utterly charming evening at the theatre, a refreshing retelling of the classic tale.  Austen seems as fresh and funny as she ever was and her wry observations of human nature, albeit in a rarefied and bygone milieu, still delight and ring true.

matthew-kelly-felicity-montagu-as-mr-mrs-bennet_-photo-johan-persson

Felicity Montagu and Matthew Kelly stealing the show (Photo: Johan Persson)

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A Load of Cobblers

THE SHOEMAKER’S HOLIDAY

The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Tuesday 23rd December, 2014

 

Thomas Dekker’s 1599 comedy makes for an entertaining alternative to traditional festive fare.  A prologue, staged with wit and brio, states that the play is ‘naught but mirth’ and right from the off, you know you’re in for a good time.

However, there is more to the piece than funny caricature and satirical humour.  There are also poignant, touching moments and high drama.  Poor Jane (Hedydd Dylan) seems to be a role comprised almost entirely of tears and heartbreak.  Husband Ralph is sent off to war and is later presumed dead.  He (Daniel Boyd) returns, crippled and disfigured, in time to prevent Jane’s marriage to slimeball Hammon (Jamie Wilkes).

At the heart of the show is a sparkling performance from David Troughton, exuding goodwill and bonhomie as shoemaker and social climber Simon Eyre, accompanied by his grotesque wife Margery – an hilarious turn from Vivien Parry, evoking the best of Julie Walters.

Joel MacCormack is the spirited and likeable cheeky chappie, Firk, bringing energy to his scenes.  Josh O’Connor’s young Lacy is also good fun, disguised as a Dutchman, in a credible comic performance, light years away from the mock-the-foreigner excesses of Allo Allo.  I loved the quiet strength of Michael Hodgson’s Hodge – the decency of the working man wrapped up in some neat touches of physical comedy.

There is a wealth of bawdy humour – even a flatulent character revelling in the name of Cicely Bumtrinket – but even in their vulgarity, we are drawn to the characters’ humanity.  The play celebrates the lower orders rather than holding them up for ridicule and censure

Sandy Foster’s Sybil is a force to be reckoned with – indeed this could be said of the entire company.  The stage is alive with energy.  Young boy William Watson looks perfectly at home with his elders – I doubt anyone gets better performances from child actors than the RSC.

Director Phillip Breen handles the subplots with the dexterity of a master chef keeping  several pots on the boil at once and I think the clarity of the production and its language owes a great deal to designer Max Jones.  Somehow the period costumes (all of them fabulous) convey the world of the play and assist our understanding in a way you don’t get when productions are translated to anachronistic times and other places.

Jack Holden’s King is more than a deus ex machina who shows up to bring resolution.  Holden makes a striking impression in a fully realised characterisation that is both funny and elegant, and he barely has to flex a regal muscle to remind us who is in charge in a chilling display of power.

Enjoy your days off and celebrate while you can, the play says.  There are forces out there that govern the way the lives of ordinary people turn out in order to further their own interests.

Success at 'last' - David Troughton (Photo: Pete Le May)

Success at ‘last’ – David Troughton (Photo: Pete Le May)


Tutte Fruity

Così fan tutte
Birmingham Hippodrome, Friday 9th November, 2012

Welsh National Opera return with their seaside production of Mozart’s delectable rom-com. The setting is the seafront of an English resort, with Victorian street lamps along the esplanade. This is a fish and chips. Punch and Judy world, with Italian seasoning.

Director Benjamin Davis gets the laughs coming as soon as possible. The effervescent overture underscores a silent movie of seaside life: young lovers walk along the prom, dog walkers struggle to keep their canine charges under control… It sets the tone perfectly for what is to follow.

The plot involves a bet made between two soldiers and an older man who tells them even their beloved fiancées will do the dirty on them as soon as the soldiers turn their backs. The soldiers accept the terms of the wager and bid farewell to their girlfriends, pretending to go off to war. They immediately reappear in disguise (as camp holiday camp redcoats) to seduce each other’s girl. Eventually the girls succumb, and the whole scheme blows up in everyone’s faces. (Kate Bush was to explore the same territory two hundred years later with Babooshka!)

There is much silliness to the plot – the suitors pretend to drink poison and are ‘cured’ by the maid dressed as a mystic with a giant magnet –and the score adds charm and humour to the comic business. The girls’ arias and duets, beautifully sung, show them to be giddy drama queens, melodramatic but heartfelt all the same. But, as with all Mozart, there are moments of absolute beauty too. The farewell to the soldiers, Soave sia il vento, is at once stirring and soothing. It is so gorgeous it makes you ache.

Elizabeth Watts is a petite powerhouse as Fiordiligi, the more serious of the sisters. Maire Flavin is the flibbertigibbet Dorabella – and both are very funny. As the faux holiday reps, Gary Griffiths’s Guglielmo is an absolute hoot in a pair of shorts and Andrew Tortise’s Ferrando has something of the Syd Little about him with his prosthetic nose and buttoned up blazer. Neal Davis dons a chequered Max Miller-type suit as Don Alfonso, engineer of the scheme. A man with a comb-over shouldn’t be able to sing so divinely! He is aided and abetted by chambermaid Despina – Joanne Boag having fun in a range of disguises, able to belt out her opinions while cleaning a toilet.

The singing is flawless although I would have liked Ferrando to be a little more forceful in his seduction scene. Mark Wigglesworth’s baton allows for moments of silence, not just to allow for the applause, but as pauses to let the action breathe, as the characters reel from some outburst or turn of events.

It is a feast for the eyes and ears – the sweetness of lettered rock tempered with the saltiness of the seaside air. Everything coruscates with wit and there is something of the fruitiness of seaside postcards in the humour. Max Jones’s design is the colourful package of this box of delights, incorporating fairground attractions and life-size Punch and Judy characters whose conflicts complement those of the main characters.

There is a cynicism to the piece in its claim (and apparent proof) that all women do the same. The men who put this hypothesis to the test suffer the most, caught in their own trap, but such is the other-worldliness of this little society, it operates solely for the purpose of fulfilling the terms of the bet, you go along with it, as the heart-shaped box of confectionery it really is. Mozart’s music tickles and seduces more effectively than any comedy moustache.