Tag Archives: Mike Britton

Execution is Everything

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Thursday 20th October, 2016

 

Mike Poulton’s masterful adaptation of Charles Dickens’s classic cracks along at a fair pace, distilling the novel into a couple of hours’ traffic on the stage.  It’s a powerful piece of storytelling.  Domestic scenes are interspersed with vignettes of violence as the mob takes over Paris and wreaks vengeance on the aristocracy.  The French Revolution is the backdrop and the antagonist in this story of love and sacrifice.

Jacob Ifan is Charles Darnay who, despite having renounced his inherited title, finds himself in shtuck with the French tribunal.  Ifan is handsome and reserved – except when he is talking politics and then the character’s passion comes to the fore.  By contrast, Joseph Timms’s Sydney Carton is a livelier presence, a spirited nihilist whose swagger only serves to advertise his lack of self-esteem.  Timms is charismatic, commanding our attention.  Carton boxes clever to save Darnay’s neck on more than one occasion.  (Carton…boxes…? Suit yourself!)

Both men are in love with Lucie Manette (an elegantly emotional Shanaya Rafaat) – and external events conspire to bring the triangle to a devastating denouement.

There is sterling support from Patrick Romer as Dr Manette, Michael Garner as faithful Mr Lorry, and Jonathan Dryden Taylor amuses as servant/bodyguard Jerry, while Harry Attwell makes an impression as Stryver The ensemble is afforded many chances for some character cameos: Sue Wallace’s Pamela Keating and Rebecca Birch’s Jenny Herring stick in the mind – Dickens certainly knew how to give voice to the lower orders. Villain of the piece, Madame Defarge (Noa Bodner) personifies the kind of thinking that urges Brexit voting idiots to denounce all opposition as traitors.  The red of her skirt is a rare splash of colour in Ruth Hall’s muted costume palette, suggesting the bloodshed of those terrible times.

Mike Britton’s set evokes the Ancien Régime in decline, and Paul Keogan’s lighting intensifies the drama, contrasting dimness with moments of sharpness.  James Dacre directs, using contrasts for clarity and building a sense of a world in turmoil encroaching on individual lives.  The treatment of the poor – as typified here by Christopher Hunter’s cruel marquis – is facing resurgence in Britain today as the ruling classes demonise those less fortunate.  The shadow of the guillotine looms large in this story – perhaps we are overdue our own revolution.  Nobility, says the play, is nothing to do with title, wealth or privilege but is rather something within us – well, some of us.

To cap it all, Rachel Portman’s original score is striking, stirring, melancholic and tragic.

It all adds up to an excellent evening, an absorbing, gripping and moving production of which the Royal & Derngate in Northampton and the Touring Consortium Theatre Company should be very proud.

Great stuff and – if I might use the term – well executed!

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A tale of two, sitting: Joseph Timms, Rebecca Birch and Jacob Ifan

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Phoning it in

DIAL M FOR MURDER

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 13th May, 2014

 

Frederick Knott’s taut 1950s thriller is given an excellent revival in Lucy Bailey’s production, currently playing at the REP.  It is very much a period piece and Bailey does well to preserve the 1950s feel while giving her production a fresh contemporary-retro atmosphere.  This is due in no small part to Mike Britton’s glamorous red set with its stylish 50s furniture and translucent walls and curtains.  There are two revolves: on one stands the furniture; from the other, a curtain hangs.  Both revolve slowly, almost imperceptibly, at various times during the action – it’s like seeing the inner workings of a machine, the cogs of Knott’s plot at work, as the villain sets his wicked plan in motion and the playwright winds up the tension.

Daniel Betts is suitably urbane and smarmy as the villainous, betrayed husband Tony Wendice, who enlists old school acquaintance and bit of a wrong ‘un, Captain Lesgate (a very good Robert Perkins) to bump off his cheating wife.  The plan hinges upon a telephone call at the crucial moment – hence the title – and when the violence takes place, it is all the more shocking for its stylisation.  Fight direction by Philip d’Orleans is complemented by unsettling contributions from lighting designer Chris Davey and sound design by Mic Pool.

Even though I have seen this play staged before, the new lease of life given to it by this production, meant I was still enthralled and thrilled.  Bailey doesn’t let the stylish presentation get in the way of Knott’s superbly crafted script.

Kelly Hotten is appealing as intended victim Mrs Wendice, looking every inch the 50s starlet under Chris Davey’s cinematic lighting.  Philip Cairns is her lover Max, making it easy to see why Mrs Wendice prefers him to her husband.  Christopher Timothy tops off this tight ensemble as determined Inspector Hubbard who worries away at every detail of the case like a dog with a bone, until the truth is brought to light.

Wordy passages of exposition are counterbalanced with wordless moments of action – Knott knew exactly what he was doing and this production clearly demonstrates why this play is a masterpiece of the genre.

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Kelly Hutton is asked about her PPI (Photo: Manuel Harlan)