Tag Archives: Neil McDermott

Ideal Home Truths

HOME, I’M DARLING

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 25th April 2023

Married couple Johnny and Judy live their lives as though it’s the 1950s.  They’ve done the house up in period style, all the furniture is authentic, and of course, so are their clothes.  A bit like Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in reverse, Judy has given up her career in finance to become a housewife, while Johnny goes off to work with a hat on and a spring in his step.  It all seems to be going well until financial pressures come to bear on this idyll.

Laura Wade’s script is sharp, full of funny retorts, but there is also social commentary: how far we’ve come since those days, and more tellingly, how far we still have to go.  Friend and neighbour Marcus is on gardening leave, while allegations of sexual misconduct at work are being investigated.  Touching a secretary’s bum is ‘a joke’ he claims.  You know, banter.

Jessica Ransom rules the roost and the stage as domestic goddess Judy, putting on a bright smile when the going gets tough, and treating us to some superbly timed pained expressions.  Judy’s world has shrunk to the house but what, her mother cries, about her potential? 

Neil McDermott gives an energised performance as husband Johnny.  He and Ransom have a heightened style when they’re together, living their Fifties fantasy.   In contrast, his boss, Alex, who in true sitcom tradition comes around for cocktails, is very much a woman of today – Shanez Pattni wearing trousers and low-key glamour.

Filling out the cast are Cassie Bradley as Fran and, at this performance, Steve Blacker-Barrowman as Marcus, fellow Fifties fans but nowhere near as obsessive.  The pair also serve as scene-changers, jiving and bopping through transitions, in a way that’s fun at first, but wears a bit thin as the show goes on.

Diane Keen is marvellous as Sylvia, Judy’s plain-speaking mother.  In a blistering monologue, she punctures her daughter’s fantasy lifestyle with a scathing reminder of what the Fifties were really like, a far cry from the Ideal Home scenario Judy and Johnny have created.  “You’re living in a cartoon!” she says savagely, unable to understand why anyone would want to go back to a time of scarcity (post-war rationing was still on the go) and rampant discrimination.

The play is very much about exposing nostalgia for a past that never was as a seductive lie, as well as throwing up questions about gender roles and societal expectations.  Director Tamara Harvey balances the heightened nature of the comic moments with the more painful moments when reality creeps in.  Anna Fleischle’s sumptuous set and costumes (Judy’s dresses in particular) are bright and stylish, capturing both the nostalgic and the aspirational.

It’s a funny and provocative piece, played by a sharp and charming ensemble, and while the resolution is as pat as anything you’d find in a 50s sitcom, it reminds us that what keeps a relationship on track is communication and compromise.

Now, where are my slippers?  Hello?

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Jessica Ransom and Diane Keen (Photo: Jack Merriman)


Holiday Camp

CLUB TROPICANA

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 29th April, 2019

 

Don’t you just hate it when your wedding is called off so your mates take you abroad to a hotel to drink it off and you end up at the same place as your intended and their mates?  This is the set-up for this new jukebox musical, the flimsy framework on which to hang hit songs from the 1980s.  Add to the mix a subplot about an anonymous hotel inspector and a stalled love affair between the hotel owners and we’re pretty much set.  As with other shows of this type, we get musical theatre performers emoting their way through vaguely relevant pop songs – part of the fun is the recognition of each song.

But what sets this one above those other shows is the star quality of its leading lights.  Talent show champion Joe McElderry is Garry, the hotel’s entertainment officer, sporting a pink (rather than a red or even a yellow) coat, coming across like the love child of George Michael and Dale Winton.  The pop songs are a walk in the park for McElderry’s excellent vocals but it is especially pleasing to see how much he has developed as a comic actor, with flawless timing, a neat line in facial expressions, and some energetic physical comedy.  It’s camper than Christmas and it feels like McElderry has found his home.

Also bringing the goods is veteran comic actor and impressionist Kate Robbins, appearing as Consuela the maid – from the Allo Allo school of funny foreigners.  In the hands of a pro like Robbins, the character is more than a stereotype, and is a superb comic creation in its own right.  Robbins gets the chance to show off her impressions, through the prism of Consuela attempting to make the hotel look busy by donning a succession of fancy-dress costumes (didn’t they use that idea in Crossroads?).

Other members of the company get their moments to shine.  Amelle Berrabah’s Serena delivers a lovely Only You, Karina Hind’s Lorraine gives a kick-ass Call Me and Cellen Chugg Jones’s Olly shows his vocal range with a-ha’s tricksy Take On Me.  Emily Tierney gives a broad comic turn as accident-prone snob, Christine, who is not all that she seems… Neil McDermott’s Robert appeals, with a neat delivery of some snappy one-liners.

Michael Gyngell’s script keeps the complications uncomplicated; we shrug off the thinness of the plot because he gives us so many funny lines.  Nick Winston’s choreography recalls the signature moves of the decade, and the band, led by MD Charlie Ingles, gets the audience on its feet.

Strindberg or Ibsen, this ain’t, but it’s not trying to be.  While Club Tropicana doesn’t exactly push the boundaries of theatre, it’s undemanding, hilarious, old-fashioned fun, performed by a likeable company.

But it strikes me as odd that the famous and much-loved title song is never sung.  Perhaps the rights could not be obtained.  In that case, they should have called the show something else – but then I suppose Hotel California is too downbeat for this hugely enjoyable farcical frolic.

Club Tropicana 3

Joe McElderry as Garry