THE LADY VANISHES
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 24th September, 2019
Based on the Alfred Hitchcock film of 1938, this brand-new production from the Classic Thriller Theatre Company, begins in Austria during the Nazi occupation. Imagine, if you can, a world in which fascism is on the rise… Oh, wait. The action begins with a train being delayed – Imagine if you can, the trains not running on time – Oh, never mind! These modern parallels aside, this is an entertaining period piece, old-fashioned in both form and content.
Gwen Taylor leads the cast as the titular disappearing woman, the tweedy Miss Froy. It’s not until she does her disappearing act, that the play picks up momentum. Up until then, it’s been character after character charging around, a little too much exposition, perhaps. Taylor’s Froy is spot on for dotty old English biddy, harmless and friendly; she comes to the aid of young Iris, who is, rather contrivedly, bashed on the head at the station. Scarlett Archer does all the right things as the plucky damsel, distressed over the old biddy’s disappearance, while everyone around her denies Miss Froy even existed. It’s an intriguing mystery and keeps us interested. Director Roy Marsden does a bang-up job of bringing matters to a head by the end of the first act, with Iris’s desperation rising to a crescendo amid the consternation of everyone else.
The rest of the company includes some stalwarts of this kind of thing: the mighty Denis Lill is paired up with Ben Nealon as a pair of cricket-obsessed duffers who provide much of the show’s comedic moments; Mark Wynter combines silver foxiness with arrogance as an adulterous barrister, while Rosie Thomson is suitably despairing as his embittered mistress. There is a cold, chilling turn from Andrew Lancel as dodgy Doctor Hartz, while Joe Reisig makes for an imposing presence as a Nazi official striding around as if he owns the train. Providing support for Iris is the funny, handsome and charming Max (played by the funny, handsome and charming Nicholas Audley).
The transmutable set, designed by Morgan Large, serves as both station and train, including compartments, is impressive and, coupled with lighting effects from Charlie Morgan Jones, sound effects by Dan Samson, and subtle bobbing on the spot by the cast, the sensation of being on a train is superbly evoked. Antony Lampard’s adaptation of the screenplay has a bit too much of the characters describing what they can see happening through the windows of the train but, that aside, the story builds to a climactic and thrilling gunfight and reaches a pleasingly romantic resolution.
Solid and dependable fare, the play delivers what you expect, with high quality production values and a skilled and effective cast. Reliably gripping, this is an enjoyable night at the theatre.
Scarlett Archer and Nicholas Audsley are not convinced by the delay-repay scheme
Leave a comment | tags: ALfred Hitchcock, Andrew Lancel, Antony Lampard, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Ben Nealon, Charlie Morgan Jones, Dan Samson, Denis Lill, Gwen Taylor, Joe Reisig, Mark Wynter, Morgan Large, Nicholas Audsley, review, Rosie Thomson, Roy Marsden, Scarlett Archer, The Lady Vanishes | posted in Review, Theatre Review
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 7th November, 2017
Ira Levin’s classic thriller is doing the rounds in this effective new production, featuring two escapees from Albert Square, namely Paul Bradley and Jessie Wallace as husband and wife. He is a playwright who hasn’t had a hit for a few years; she is the supportive wife with a weak constitution, who has been funding their life together in their smart little barn conversion in the woods… Along comes bright young thing Sam Phillips with an idea for a new play, and the scene is set for double-crosses, shocks and surprises.
Levin’s script is clever, laced with sarcastic wit and tell-tale details – if you know what to look for. I’ve seen the play before so I knew all its secrets going in but director Adam Penford manages the twists and turns, changes of pace, the violence and the laughs with skill, providing a few jump scares along the way.
Paul Bradley dominates as the desperate and overbearing Sidney, while Jessie Wallace, unusually dowdy in her frumpy beige cardigan and not a hint of leopard print for miles, gives a restrained performance as Myra with the dodgy ticker. Sam Phillips’s Clifford brings energy and good looks, and there is a wild comic cameo from Beverley Klein as visiting Swedish psychic, Helga ten Dorp. Julien Ball completes the quintet as Sidney’s smooth attorney, Porter Milgrim.
Morgan Large’s attractive, rustic set bedecked with a range of vicious weapons gives the action its arena but at times Ben and Max Ringham’s music is a little heavy-handed. Moments of violence are underscored for added atmosphere, heightening the emotion but lessening its realism.
It’s a play that deconstructs itself as it plays out. The characters discuss the elements of a stage thriller before and after we see them enacted within the plot, and it is this knowingness that makes Levin’s piece a classic of the genre. A similar approach was adopted much later by horror film Scream. But like all thrillers, it’s about not-particularly-nice people doing despicable things for (usually) financial gain. Unusually, there is no detective to wheedle out the truth – a different comeuppance awaits these plotters…
This is a solid production, well played and engaging. A darkly delicious way to spend an evening.
Paul Bradley and Jessie Wallace host a cardigan festival
Leave a comment | tags: Adam Penford, Ben and Max Ringham, Beverley Klein, Deathtrap, Ira Levine, Jessie Wallace, Julien Ball, Morgan Large, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Paul Bradley, review, Sam Phillips, thriller | posted in Theatre Review
LOVE ME TENDER
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 24th August, 2015
This jukebox musical, inspired by and including songs made famous by Elvis Presley, turns out to be the epitome of the genre. No one is more delighted than I. There is even a jukebox on stage.
What sets this one apart from the others doing the rounds is its sense of humour. It knows it is froth and doesn’t take itself at all seriously. The plot borrows heavily from shows like Footloose and Hairspray but also from Shakespearean rom-coms, Twelfth Night and As You Like It. Almost everyone in it is a star-crossed lover, with their heart set on the wrong person. Complications mount up until the final scene, and there are lots of laughs along the way, killer songs that just keep coming, and boundless energy from a lively and talented chorus.
Ben Lewis is guitar-playing roustabout Chad who rocks up in a nameless Midwest town; he’s part-Elvis, part-Fonz with his jukebox-mending magical touch, and there is also more than a hint of Johnny Bravo. He falls for the local museum curator (Kate Tydman) but it is Natalie (Laura Tebbutt) the local mechanic who sets her sight on him – to the extent that she dresses up as a guitar-playing roustabout in order to spend time hanging out with him. Chad finds Ed strangely alluring, and so does the museum curator in scenes that resemble Olivia and Viola, and Viola and Orsino. It’s all silly fun, played with verve by the young leads, and there is an amusing turn by Mark Anderson as Dennis, a nerd in love with Natalie…
A subplot involving interracial couple Lorraine (an excellent Aretha Ayeh) and Dean (an appealing Felix Mosse) hints at a darker world beyond the town’s limits, but the show doesn’t dwell on such unpleasantness. Their rendition of It’s Now or Never is a comic highlight, hilariously staged by director/choreographer Karen Bruce.
Bruce keeps the action fluid, using a versatile, stylised set (by Morgan Large) and a plethora of amusing props and ideas. Sian Reeves stalks around like a crab with a loudhailer as puritanical Mayor Matilda, the nominal villain of the piece – you may know what’s coming but it’s fun seeing it happen. Shaun Williamson is in great form as Natalie’s dad, Jim, a lonely widower; his singing voice is perfect for Elvis numbers and he uses his physicality to comic effect.
But it is Mica Paris who takes the honours as sassy bar owner Sylvia. Her delivery of sardonic one-liners is spot on and, of course, her singing is stupendous. I got chills, they’re multiplying – oops, wrong show.
Love Me Tender is non-stop entertainment, proper feel-good fun from start to roof-raising finish.
Mica Paris and Shaun Williamson (Photo: Johan Persson)
Leave a comment | tags: Aretha Ayah, Ben Lewis, Birmingham, Elvis Presley, Felix Mosse, Karen Bruce, Kate Tydman, Laura Tebbutt, Love Me Tender, Mark Anderson, Mica Paris, Morgan Large, New Alexandra Theatre, review, Shaun Williamson, Sian Reeves | posted in Theatre Review