The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 12th April, 2017
Working in collaboration with Hull Truck Theatre, the RSC brings us this new play from writer Richard Bean – of One Man, Two Guvnors renown. It’s the eve of the Civil War and the country is already divided. In Beverley, Sir John Hotham is torn. Should he support the King or Parliament? He flipflops between sides, playing each against the other, until his equivocations overtake him and he is arrested and – well, spoiler alert: the play begins with his execution. Knowing Hotham’s fate from the off removes suspense but his path to the chopping block is a twisted and entertaining one.
As the double-dealing Hotham, Mark Addy gives a star turn, brimming with Northern bluster and human failings, like a Tory jumping ship from Leave to Remain and back again. This is One Man, Two Guvnors in period costume. Caroline Quentin is his cooler-headed wife (the latest in a long line) but nonetheless funny. Sarah Middleton is a scream as their daughter, Frances, a giddy, histrionic young girl tearing around and even rolling into the laps of the front row. In contrast, her brother Durand (Pierro Niel-Mee) is straight-laced and academic – until his own ardour is aroused, of course. Canny servant Connie (Laura Elsworthy) and decrepit old pantaloon Drudge (an unrecognisable Danielle Bird) complete the household, embodying dry wit and physical clowning respectively.
There is a double act of young suitors in the shape of James, Duke of York (Jordan Metcalfe) and Prince Rupert of the Rhein (Rowan Polonski) who, for reasons of plot, dress as lady fishmongers. Both Metcalfe and Polonski are appealing presences and very funny. Also good fun is Ben Goffe as King Charles himself, mounted on a hobby horse – Goffe also makes an impression as the ghostly figure of a young girl murdered for breaking a vase.
Bean populates his five-act comedy with stock characters, making a farce of historical events and peppering the dialogue with sharp relevance. Hypocrites who seek to further their own ends at the expense of integrity – they should meet Hotham’s fate! The religious and the spiritual also come in for a lambasting. The puritanical Pelham (Neil D’Souza) and the hedonist Saltmarsh (Matt Sutton) are held up as excessive figures – the comedy arises from the exposure of weakness and appetites common to humans and both celebrates and mocks our foibles.
Director Phillip Breen pays attention to fine detail as well as broad comic playing. At times the action is chaotic – or seemingly so, as choreographed chases and fights break out. The acts are separated by rousing songs (by Grant Olding) performed live and on stage. Phill Ward is in excellent voice with his stirring agit-prop anthems that bring to mind the songs of recent folk-rock group The Levellers.
The show is consistently funny in a theatrically traditional way but it is more than a farcical reconstruction; it speaks to us directly. We are today in a divided country. We are caught up in epoch-changing political events – we can only hope that, unlike Hotham, we don’t lose our heads about it.
Mark Addy as Hotham (Photo: Pete Le May)
Leave a comment | tags: Caroline Quentin, Danielle Bird, Grant Olding, Hull Truck Theatre, Jordan Metcalfe, Laura Elsworthy, Mark Addy, Matt Sutton, Neil D'Souza, Phill Ward, Phillip Breen, Pierro Niel-Mee, review, Richard Bean, Rowan Polonski, RSC, Sarah Middleton, Stratford upon Avon, The Hypocrite, The Swan Theatre | posted in Theatre Review
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 5th May, 2016
This new play by Aamina Ahmad is a mature piece of writing – an impressive debut, a very impressive debut, in fact. The setting is Lahore, Pakistan in 2009. Newly decorated Colonel Tariq (Robert Mountford) is fielding job offers, thanks to a mission which saw the demise of a notorious terrorist. Tariq gets wind that the terrorist may still be alive and so conducts his own investigation to find out the truth. The search takes him to the red light district where he speaks to young prostitute Shaida (Maya Saroya) who, thanks to the actions of a CIA agent, winds up shot in the head. The situation begins to unravel for Tariq, striving to assert himself among ever-tightening constraints. Meanwhile, his wife Farah (Goldy Notay) has secrets of her own the authorities are able to use as leverage…
It’s an absorbing political thriller and feels like a stage adaptation of a television series, something like Homeland or The Night Manager. Director Janet Steel keeps things theatrical with simultaneous scenes on stage at various points, using sparse scenery and atmospheric lighting to evoke the bigger picture, the city outside the rooms we visit.
As handsome hero Tariq, Robert Mountford is an appealing lead, stricken by external and internal conflict. As his beautiful wife, Goldy Notay matches him for humour – the volatile dialogue sparks between the couple, and the naturalistic playing rings true. Also remarkable is Ahmad’s ear for male banter within the context of the undeniably macho genre of the espionage thriller.
Neil D’Souza is excellent as Tariq’s superior, Brigadier Chaudrey, while David Michaels is both friend and foe as CIA man Lowe – epitomising the personal/political tensions of the piece. Maya Soraya plays the doomed prostitute and her sister, bringing vulnerability and fear in some striking scenes, and there is enjoyable support from Zaqi Ismail as the blunt Captain Gul.
Jai Channa’s music provides an emotive soundtrack, underlining the cinematic or televisual aspects, but is used inconsistently. All or nothing, I’d say.
What it comes down to is the question of how far will one go, what compromises will one have to make, and how to live with the consequences of one’s choices. We see Tariq painted into a morally complex corner – he runs out of options. What will he sacrifice – his status or his personal integrity?
Gripping, intelligent and classy, The Dishonoured is an intriguing piece, excellently presented by Kali Theatre.
Framed! Robert Mountford as Colonel Tariq
Leave a comment | tags: Aamina Ahmad, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Daivd Michaels, Goldy Notay, Jai Channa, Janet Steel, Kali Theatre, Maya Soraya, Neil D'Souza, review, Robert Mountford, The Dishonoured | posted in Theatre Review
KHANDAN – family
The REP Studio, Birmingham, Tuesday 27th May, 2014
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s new play is set in the home of an Indian family in Birmingham. At the heart and head of the family, formidable matriarch Jeeto (Sudha Bhuchar) clings to a dream of going ‘home’ to a vista of green fields, viewed from the ancestral verandah. To this end she pushes son Pal (Rez Kempton) to keep the family shop established by her late husband open on Christmas Day, but Pal has other ideas. He wants to sell the shop and set up his own business, a care home for elderly Asians in a refurbished pub. Pal’s wife Liz (Lauren Crace) has been assimilated into the family and is more than happy to adopt the traditional role of the daughter-in-law as live-in domestic help, while Pal’s spirited sister Cookie (Zita Sattar) regrets having married and raised children, as she was expected to. When cousin Reema arrives from India with her own views of independence and fending for herself, the family tensions that have been simmering like the ever-present pan of ‘chai’ boil over.
It’s an involving play, keeping on the right side of soap opera and melodrama, acted and presented naturalistically. Director Roxana Silbert handles the events that put strain on family ties by keeping things simple and straightforward, allowing the characters to spark off each other. The script is very much a conventional one and does not need gimmicks or flashy transitions to dress it up.
Jamie Varton’s set has the audience as three of the walls of the house, giving an intimate setting complete with running tap water and a working gas hob, grounding the play in the realness of its subject matter.
The cast is excellent with Bhuchar and Sattar standing out as mother and daughter with contrasting temperaments. Kempton and Crace also do well in their scenes of marital strife with the latter especially touching as the white girl who left her own family behind for love. Neil D’Souza is good fun as Cookie’s hapless husband, Major, ostensibly a bit of a prat until Pal’s plans go awry, and Preeya Kaludas impresses with her portrayal of Reema’s decline from idealism to destitution.
The spectre (or should that be ‘spirit’?) of alcohol looms large in the family’s past and present, and the notion of Pal trying to establish an Asian care home in an old English pub symbolises the difficulties of trying to graft two cultures together to make something new…
There are some very funny lines, many of which come from salon owner Cookie who is not opening on New Year’s Day because ‘ you can’t do a Brazilian with a hangover.’ There is also a lot of heart and no shortage of tension in this story of family dynamics and the clash between ambition and tradition. You may not understand the odd word or line of Punjabi with which the dialogue is peppered, but you don’t need to. The universal truths of human relationships speak loud and clear.
Dramatically, Khandan is old-fashioned and sturdy but above all it’s an engaging and satisfying evening’s entertainment.
Mother knows best! Sudha Bhuchar and Rez Kempton (photo: Robert Day)
Leave a comment | tags: Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Jamie Vartan, Khandan, Lauren Crace, Neil D'Souza, Preeya Kalidas, review, Rez Kempton, Roxana Silbert, Sudha Bhuchar, The REP Birmingham, theatre review, Zita Sattar | posted in Theatre Review