Tag Archives: Melly Still

Plucking at Heartstrings

CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN

The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 29th May, 2019

 

Rona Munro’s masterly adaptation of the Louis de Bernieres bestseller reimagines the novel as an exuberantly theatrical piece.  Directed by Melly Still, this production uses a child-like approach: the weapons are all mimed, exploded soldiers perform pratfalls onto their backpacks – but this war game is deadly.  There are consequences beyond the bang-bang-you’re-dead action.  Still uses heavily stylised, emblematic elements to create some striking imagery: the dead caught in a web of death is particularly horrific.  Augmented by Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting and Jon Nicholls’s sound, the storytelling is impeccable.  This is grown-up theatre at its finest and the scenes of violence are all the more powerful rendered in this way.

Alex Mugnaioni is the titular officer, a remote figure at first before he comes to occupy a room in the house of Dr Iannis (an avuncular joseph Long) and insinuate himself into the affections of the doctor’s resourceful daughter Pelagia (Madison Clare).   The couple’s relationship is tainted by the encroaching events of the war in Greece; their love story is searing and romantic, and we see the life-changing disruption caused not only by conflict but also by the passage of time.  Mugnaioni and Clare are sweet and touching in their portrayal of these star-cross’d lovers.  Corelli’s mandolin playing is a reminder of the beauty humans can create, a counterpoint to the man-made horrors of war.  He plays wonderfully but will Corelli be able to pluck up the courage to do what is necessary?

The presentation may be stylised but human nature is revealed through raw emotion and truthful playing.  Eve Polycarpou performs some heart-rending vocalisations as the grief-stricken Drosoula; Ryan Donaldson’s imposing presence is offset by his character’s tender nature – we feel it when Carlos falls for Francesco (Fred Fergus) and are heartbroken by Carlos’s noble act of sacrifice.  Ashley Gayle is a passionate Mandras, while Stewart Scudamore brings a touch of humour as Velisaros, the local strongman.

Truly fascinating are the performances of Luisa Guerreiro as a goat and Elizabeth Mary Williams as Psipsina, a pine marten.  In fact, I often found myself focussing on their behaviours while the human characters were speaking!

Mayou Trikerioti’s set, almost spartan you might say, with a stepladder used as a door and two huge copper squares suspended at the back, somehow evokes Cephalonia.  There is something about the metal that suggests the history of the island – the squares serve as screens for video effects too.  There is original music by Harry Blake that enhances the local colour and stirs the emotions.

Rona Munro selects from de Berniere’s rich writing so that snippets and descriptive phrases work on our imaginations – adaptation is more than just retelling the plot.  While I wasn’t reduced to floods of tears as I was when I read the novel, this is a superbly effective production, both shocking and moving, and above all thoroughly absorbing.

marc brenner

Fret not, Captain Corelli’s here! Alex Mugnaioni (Photo: Marc Brenner)

 

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Remains to be seen

THE LOVELY BONES

The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 31st October, 2018

 

Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel is brought to the stage in this compelling adaptation by Bryony Lavery.   Essentially, it’s a ghost story, but one that is told from the ghost’s point of view.  Our narrator is Susie Salmon, the 13-year-old victim of rape and murder at the hands of her neighbour Mr Harvey.  What keeps young Susie bound to the Earth is her determination to bring the identity of her killer to light, her need to have her body found, and her refusal to accept death before she has really lived

Charlotte Beaumont dominates as the energetic, indomitable Susie in a lively and irresistible portrayal.  Susie’s anger, confusion, frustration and especially her humour all shine through.  As the story develops, we feel the loss of this innocent, lovely girl.  Beaumont is supported by a strong ensemble to tell the story, several of them doubling up roles.

As Susie’s parents, Emily Bevan and Jack Sandle tackle the difficult emotions of losing a child, and the scenes in which Mom, but especially Dad, reminisce and ‘see’ Susie are particularly effective.  Ayoola Smart grows up before our eyes as Susie’s little sister, Lindsey.  Karan Gill is sweet as Susie’s would-be boyfriend Ray Singh and also very funny as Holiday, the family’s dog.  Bhawna Bhawsar contrasts the authoritative role of Franny, Susie’s after-life guide, with the blasé weariness of Ray’s mother, Ruana.  Pete Ashmore convinces as Detective Fenerman, and I particularly like Natasha Cottriall’s goth girl Ruth and Susan Bovell’s sardonic grandmother, Lynn.   But it’s Keith Dunphy’s creepy Mr Harvey, disturbing in his ordinariness, who is my man of the match.

Lavery’s script is infused with dark humour, alleviating the tension and the grimness of the subject matter.  Director Melly Still keeps the staging deceptively simple: the rape-murder is narrated by Susie while off-stage voices provide the soundtrack.  As ever, what is suggested is more powerful than what is shown.  The set, by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita, is little more than a rectangle drawn on the floor, but the mirrored background affords us dual viewpoints of the action, as though we’re seeing two dimensions: Susie’s ghostly one, and the real world in which life goes on without her.  This mirror gives some striking imagery: Ray and Susie rolling around on the floor become figures in flight.  Emily Mytton’s eerie puppetry – the dresses of other victims – add to the ghostliness and horror, while Matt Haskins’s lighting and Helen Skiera’s sound frequently assault us, flaring up and blaring out, as though to remind us of the wrongness of Susie’s fate, as well as to jar Susie against the confines of her ghostly presence.

It all adds to up to a highly powerful piece of storytelling, funny, emotional, sickening, terrifying and moving.  The show manages to chill, break, and warm your heart.   An absolute must-see.

The Lovely Bones  1.9.18Credit : Sheila Burnett

Innocence and guilt: Charlotte Beaumont and Keith Dunphy (Photo: Sheila Burnett)


Great Briton

CYMBELINE

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Saturday 11th June, 2016

 

Melly Still’s production of Shakespeare’s rarely staged late play embraces the bonkersness of the story – revelling in it, in fact.  Set in a dystopian near-future, a post-technological age, there is a medieval quality to the design; inevitably my mind finds parallels with Game of Thrones.  The extremes of behaviour, the graphic violence – the play has more villains than your average Shakespeare, and, in this production, when Innogen disguises herself as a boy, she chooses Arya Stark cosplay.

As the beset princess, Bethan Cullinane is an appealing lead, with strength and vulnerability – the emphasis is on the latter.  Hiran Abeysekera shows conviction as her secret husband, Posthumus (aka Leonatus), but all the swagger, all the brio, comes from the bad guys.  Marcus Griffiths is magnificent as the arrogant, petulant Cloten; his serenade to Innogen is an unalloyed delight.  Oliver Johnstone is a delicious Iachimo, a louche lounge lizard, cocky and flash – for me one of his worst transgressions is his lack of socks.  James Clyde as the Duke, second husband of Cymbeline (in this show, the titular monarch has been gender swapped), plots and smarms, with elbow patches on his blazer, like a Machiavellian supply teacher.

Queen of the Britons, Cymbeline (Gillian Bevan) is authoritative but also world-worn.  She speaks with the authority of someone who has been through a lot – as if the loss of two of her children twenty years ago has been eating away at her.  Those lost children have been living in Wales all this time.  Mere mention of Milford Haven gets a laugh.  Natalie Simpson makes a fierce Polydore/Guideria, complete with Xena: Warrior Princess battle cry.  Her brother Belarius/Arviragus (James Cooney) is wiry and energetic; he sings beautifully when it comes to Fear No More the Heat of the Sun.

The whole cast is splendid.  Among the ensemble, Theo Ogundipe makes a strong impression in a couple of roles, and Kelly Williams stands out as troubled servant Pisania.

Melly Still freezes the action, or slows it right down, during the characters’ many asides – a neat device that reminds us this is not the real world we are witnessing.  Also, some scenes are spoken in Italian or Latin, with the text projected on the scenery.  This is amusing at first, but Latin doesn’t sound right in an English accent.  But then, who knows what Latin sounded like?

The play deals with deceit and treachery, allegiance and devotion.  War comes because Britain has not paid its tribute to Rome.  After some bloody rushing around and a high body count, Cymbeline agrees to pay what is due.  A metaphor for the upcoming EU referendum?  If so, Cymbeline is definitely on the REMAIN side.  Hooray.

This is a hugely enjoyable production, a real treat to be reacquainted with a play that is not as over-exposed and familiar as the Bard’s greatest hits.  Such is its charm and invention, we go along with it.  In the same way that the characters take reversals of fortune and revelations on the chin, we laugh along.  The sincerity and heart of the performance carries us through the sensationalism of the plot.  Another big hit from the RSC.

Cymbeline_production_photos_May_2016_2016_Photo_by_Ellie_Kurttz_c_RSC_192868

Cloten (Marcus Griffiths) sings his head off (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)