Tag Archives: Michael Taylor

You Don’t Have To Be Mad To Work Here…

WHAT THE BUTLER SAW

Curve, Leicester, Monday 13th March, 2017

 

Not more dreary confessions from Paul Burrell but Joe Orton’s final play, staged in his home town fifty years after he was murdered by his mentally ill boyfriend.

The play – a farce – has mental illness at its core.  Set in the consulting room of Dr Prentice (Rufus Hound), the action begins with sexual harassment during a job interview and goes rapidly (and deliciously) downhill from there.  The staples of farce are all present, from the set with its abundance of exits, to misunderstandings, disguise, physical comedy, and characters motivated by their foibles, all wrapped up in an absurd situation.  What lifts Orton’s writing far above the usual Whitehall fare (all the rage at the time of the first production) is the quality of the writing.  Deliberately provocative, the dialogue sparkles with Wildean epigrams.  The seemingly frothy exchanges belie the dark underbelly of the world of the play – and, by extension, our society.  And it retains the power to prick our sensibilities today, in this overly sensitive age when being offended is a time-consuming occupation.

Rufus Hound is in manic form as the lecherous psychiatrist – it’s almost as though he’s auditioning for a 1970s sitcom.  Catherine Russell’s Mrs Prentice matches him for moments of hysteria but her own lechery is more coolly portrayed.  Jasper Britton dominates as the pompous and tyrannical Dr Rance, imposing his psychoanalysis on what he perceives to be the case – he’d fit in perfectly in this post-truth world where those in authority have no regard for facts.

Ravi Aujla’s unfortunate police sergeant adds to the chaos while our sympathy is aroused by Dakota Blue Richards’s hapless Geraldine, an innocent embroiled in a nightmare.  The ever-excellent Jack Holden makes a fetching page boy as Nicholas Beckett – I can’t decide if he’s more appealing stripped to his underpants or dolled up in wig and leopard-print frock….

Director Nikolai Foster keeps the action frenetic and the dialogue quick fire.  The pace doesn’t let up for an instant – that would be death to a farce.  Michael Taylor’s curved, clinical set, brightly lit by Ben Cracknell, provides a stark backdrop for these colourful characters, and the result is a relentlessly funny, morally questionable evening’s entertainment.  That some of our laughter is uneasy shows how well Orton had his finger on the pulse, and the sheer, overt contrivance of the denouement blatantly mocks the excesses of the form.

A dark masterpiece, flawlessly presented – and I can’t help wondering what else Orton might have given us had he lived even a little bit longer.

butler

Jack Holden and Rufus Hound face a hairy situation (Photo: Catherine Ashmore)

Advertisements

Burial Plot

DEAD SIMPLE

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Monday 26th January 2015

Shaun McKenna’s adaptation of the Peter James novel keeps the twisty-turny plot to the fore, which is as it should be in a story of this type. It’s not so much a whodunit, a puzzle for the audience, as a theme park ride of shocks and spills. It is the plot, not the characters, that keeps us hooked in to the drama. This is fun for us but presents the actors with a particular challenge.

At times, the characters are merely mouthpieces, spouting ‘facts’ which may or may not be relevant to the subsequent action. They are ciphers rather than rounded characterisations – this is in service of the plot, which may require them to become someone other than we first encounter a little later on. And so we get some clunky attempts at dialogue – the ‘banter’(even between the police characters) does not ring true – and consequently, the acting can seem at times stilted and unconvincing.

Jamie Lomas is victim-in-chief Michael, looking forward to his stag night. There is some excruciating mateyness with his best man and partner in crime. A prank goes awry and Michael finds himself buried alive in a coffin. Yet it is within these confines that Lomas is set free. Using mainly his voice to express his mounting distress, he gives the performance of the night.

Rik Makarem is best mate Mark, and does a good job of squirming under pressure. Tina Hobley is strikingly beautiful as bride-to-be Ashley; there are surprises in store from both of them. Uncle Brad (Michael McKell) has a Canadian accent that is ropier than a piece of string – But I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, given the way the plot goes…

Josh Brown’s simple-minded Davey adopts a TV-style accent which he punctuates with Northern English – another strong depiction of distress – yet he also provides most of the comic touches, through characterisation rather than ham-fisted dialogue.

Sarah Baxendale is underused as the psychic friend to the star detective Roy Grace – here portrayed with calm assertiveness by Gray O’Brien. Marc Small enlivens every scene he’s in as Detective Sergeant Branson.

The split-level set by Michael Taylor works well to establish a range of locations, enabling the action to keep flowing, but I don’t think the car that wheels on and off is at all necessary, when so much of the scenery is suggested through lighting and sound. Also, a team of stage hands shifting scenery on half the stage during the penultimate scene is distracting, to put it mildly.

Director Ian Talbot builds suspense and surprise so that we care what happens next, even if we don’t give a toss about any of the characters involved.

dead simple


House of Fun

THE LADYKILLERS
Malvern Theatres, Tuesday 27th November, 2012

Graham Linehan’s stage adaptation of the classic film comedy is an unadulterated joy from start to finish. The first aspect of this production that strikes you is the marvellous, higgledy-piggledy set, designed to show several rooms in Mrs Wilberforce’s railwayside house. Walls and doors lurch at bizarre angles like something out of a German expressionist film – or flatpack furniture put together by yours truly. It soon becomes apparent there is a reason for this crooked house: subsidence, but the kooky nature of the environment is the perfect setting for the crazy, off-centre characters who inhabit it. Designer Michael Taylor provides plenty of surprises in his detailed and versatile creation.

Michele Dotrice heads the superb cast as lovable old dodderer, Mrs Wilberforce, who rents out a room to what she thinks is a string quintet. She potters around, oblivious and vulnerable and yet somehow commanding. It is easy to see how the ne’er-do-wells are reluctant to bump her off.

The crooks are masterminded by Professor Marcus (Paul Bown) who is deliciously sinister and ingratiating. As neurotic Major Courtney, Clive Mantle channels John Cleese (and Danny LaRue!); Chris McCalphy is consistently hilarious as dim-witted oaf One Round; Shaun Williamson impresses as Romanian hit man Louis Harvey; and William Troughton’s Harry Robinson is a mass of pent-up energy, guzzling pills and being hit in the face more times than I could count. Marcus Taylor’s Constable Macdonald lends solid support, worldly wise and yet blinkered at the same time. Each character is well-defined, albeit in broad strokes as befits the farcical situation.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the film but I think I can spot updates in the script and Linehan interpolations. The ‘buggers’ are the more obvious contemporary additions. Purists may baulk but the language adds to the incongruence of the hoodlums in the sweet little old lady’s home. The new lines lend darkness to the piece that would be created by other means on film. What we get here is an undoubtedly theatrical piece, with a rich vein of dark humour that reminded me of Arsenic and Old Lace in more ways than one.

Sean Foley directs the ensemble with gusto, keeping the pace going, embracing the silliness and encouraging the larger-than –life. There is an amusing representation of the heist with model cars driving up a wall, and a good deal of physical business to keep the actors occupied. The show is a well-oiled machine but feels absolutely fresh, inventive and funny.

This is much more than a re-enactment of a film. The adaptation gives us a well-made play with its own integrity. Unfortunately, there are other shows doing the rounds that fall short of this requirement. (Dirty Dancing, cough cough)