Festival Theatre, Malvern, Wednesday 23rd November, 2022
This slice of Victorian gothic begins with grief-stricken natural historian Professor Stokes (Maxwell Caulfield) narrating a spooky experience he has had to spiritualist Tom Beauregard (Michael Praed). And so we are transported to the site of this happening, a creepy old house by the sea, where we encounter housekeeper Mrs Hinchcliffe (Juliet Mills) and housemaid Florence (Chipo Kureya). And it’s not long before objects start moving seemingly of their own accord, to the accompaniment of plenty of bumps in the night.
Writer Michael Punter weaves an intriguing mystery; his dialogue is beautifully evocative of period and sensation. There is wry humour running through the piece, offsetting the moments of tension and surprise, which are superbly handled by director Charlotte Peters.
Maxwell Caulfield is in good form as the opinionated professor, and there is some superb character work from Juliet Mills, as a chummy version of Mrs Danvers. Chipo Kureya is their equal as the ‘sensitive’ housemaid, upping the supernatural ante. But it is Michael Praed who storms the piece as the American spiritualist, on the wrong side of the Civil War, looking and sounding every inch the debonair Southern gentleman. Young Kureya excluded, the other three must have hideous, decaying portraits stashed in their attics: how they resist the ravages of old age is perhaps the most mysterious supernatural element to the show!
Without giving too much away, there is also a splendidly eerie appearance by Will Beynon…
Dominic Bilkey’s sound design goes a long way to engendering atmosphere, while Nick Richings’s lighting plays on Philip Witcomb’s beautifully detailed set to create moments of terror and otherworldly occurrences.
It’s a well-made, good-looking production, with an interesting story and well-executed special effects. If I were in charge, however, I would tidy up some of the plot points so that all the information is revealed before the climactic action. This would mean there’d be no need for the coda scene, happening twelve months later, where two of the characters tie up the loose ends for the audience’s benefit.
Marvellously atmospheric and beautifully played, this is a spookily entertaining night out.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Stop! Nobody ordered a table dance! Juliet Mills, Michael Praed, Maxwell Caulfield and Chipo Kureya sharing a moment (Photo: Jack Merriman)
Leave a comment | tags: Chipo Kureya, Darker Shores, Dominic Bilkey, Festival Theatre Malvern, Juliet Mills, Maxwell Caulfield, Michael Praed, Michael Punter, Nick Richings, Philip Witocmb, review, Will Beynon | posted in play, Review, Theatre Review
DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 5th May, 2015
Opening night of the tour of this West End smash hit; I feel like a bit of a scoundrel myself for reviewing the show before the official press night (tomorrow) but then I can only talk about the performances I see.
I remember the Michael Caine/Steve Martin film from years ago only dimly: the Ruprecht scene, and the denouement – rest assured you need no foreknowledge of the movie to appreciate this adaptation in all its glory.
And glorious it is. There is a lightness of touch throughout – we are never invited to take any of it seriously. Even the supposedly more emotion numbers are tongue-in-cheek, and involve duplicity at some point. David Yazbek’s catchy tunes and witty lyrics are in keeping with the humour of Jeffrey Lane’s book, and there is a casual break-the-fourth-wall approach to the staging that adds to the fun.
Set on the French Riviera, this is the story of conman Lawrence (silver fox Michael Praed) who pretends to be a European prince in need of funds to save his country. Enter Freddy (Noel Sullivan, better than he’s ever been) a low-rent American trickster – the pair team up to fleece a Oklahoman heiress (Phoebe Coupe making a lasting impression as the bullish Jolene). When ‘soap queen’ Christine arrives in town, the pair become rivals, competing for both her money and the right to stay in town and ply their trade.
Carley Stenson is a powerful presence as the American target of the two conmen, belting out her songs in a good, old-fashioned musical voice. Noel Sullivan is spot on as Freddy, displaying a fine line in physical comedy, while Michael Praed is smooth and debonair and just as swoonsome as he was in Dynasty as European Prince Michael of Moldavia, managing to remain suave even when he’s swanning around in disguise as a German psychiatrist. This talented and enjoyable trio are supported by the excellent Mark Benton as Andre, the crooked chief of police, and Geraldine Fitzgerald’s Muriel. It is clear from the off that the cast are enjoying themselves – without being self-indulgent. This enjoyment transmits to the audience and so we enjoy the performances rather than admire the reprehensible behaviour of this unscrupulous, immoral characters. It’s not even a morality tale. No one is reformed at the end.
The story flourishes in its new theatrical medium. Peter McKintosh’s elegant set hosts a lively ensemble of dancers for the production numbers. Jerry Mitchell’s choreography and direction give a flavour of the South of France, tempered with some Latin American moves and music.
It all adds up to a cracking night out – a superior example of a film-to-stage adaptation, a toe-tapping, laugh-out-loud fun ride performed by a stellar cast, company and band.
Leave a comment | tags: Birmingham, Carley Stenson, David Yazbek, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Jeffrey Lane, Mark Benton, Michael Praed, New Alexandra Theatre, Noel Sullivan, Peter McKintosh, Phoebe Coupe, review | posted in Theatre Review
The REP, Birmingham, Monday 3rd November, 2014
The play begins in darkness. There is a gunshot and a woman screams..
But the playwright, J B Priestley is playing a trick: the lights come up on a group of women listening to a radio play. They are soon joined by a dapper bunch of gentlemen in evening dress and a discussion of the broadcast and its theme of truth-telling triggers a series of revelations that tears the group of friends apart.
The play must have been more shocking in its day – we have become somewhat inured to infidelities and all the other transgressions to which the characters lay claim. Probably too, a 1930s audience might have felt more inclined to like these people but I struggle to find anything likeable in any of them. They really are a deplorable lot – apart from Olwen Peel (Kim Thomson) but even she has her dark surprises.
Michael Praed seems the most at home in the period setting as debonair cad and bounder Charles Stanton. His throwaway delivery of sarcastic lines gets plenty of laughs. Kim Thomson is also excellent as the lovelorn spinster, ably supported by Finty Williams as Freda and by Colin Buchanan as her husband Robert. I couldn’t take to Gordon (Matt Milne), I’m afraid, whose characterisation seems like a piece gone astray from a different jigsaw puzzle – he doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest.
Gary McCann’s costumes are gorgeous and his sturdy and grandiose art deco set conveys wealth and stability in contrast with the human frailties that are exposed with every passing minute. It is though a rather static affair, a wordy play where empathy for the characters is replaced by admiration for Priestley’s skills as he piles on disclosure after disclosure to an almost ludicrous degree, before delivering a coup de theatre by sending us all back to start – except this time we are armed with insights and every line is pregnant with dramatic irony. A twist of fate averts the trigger and the devastating discussion doesn’t happen…
Honesty is not the best policy, the play says. Lies maintain the veneer of civilisation and keep us ticking along sociably enough. Perhaps that’s the most immoral revelation of all.
Kim Thomson and Michael Praed (Photo: Robert Day)
1 Comment | tags: Colin Buchanan, Dangerous Corner, Finty Williams, Gary McCann, J B Priestley, Kim Thomson, Matt Milne, Michael Praed, review, The REP Birmingham | posted in Theatre Review