Tag Archives: New Vic Theatre

Dancing up a Storm

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Tuesday 5th July, 2016

 

Sometimes, human beings get it right and create a piece of perfection that stands in contrast to the countless ways we have screwed up on this planet.  Such a piece is the flawless 1952 film, Singin’ in the Rain.  You only have to watch it to have your faith in our species renewed.

I’ve seen stage adaptations before and while the quality of the performers has been unquestionable, I always come away with a ‘Why bother?’ look on my face.

Not so the case with this new production, on which the New Vic has collaborated with Bolton’s Octagon Theatre and the Salisbury Playhouse.  This is feel-good theatre to the max.  There is the added bonus of the New Vic’s in-the-round setting; we are in the rain along with the cast – some of us more than others (bright yellow ponchos are provided!).  There is an intimacy here the proscenium arch cannot deliver.  Ciaran Bagnall’s stylised set is basically a circle, above which art deco screens play the movies the characters make.  Around the circle, cast members play instruments, providing the score and the accompaniment to whomever is singing at the time.  They’re a versatile bunch and under Richard Reeday’s musical direction, form a tight ensemble with an authentic Roaring Twenties sound.

Matthew Croke absolutely dazzles as movie idol Don Lockwood – the Gene Kelly role.  He has the dreamboat good looks, the rich crooning voice and, of course, the moves.  I could watch him all night.  When the iconic title song comes at the end of the first act, it’s perfect.  Croke glides and splashes around and the front few rows get a soaking – it’s equally elegant, beautiful and uproariously funny.  What we lose in scenic devices, we gain in good old slapstick!

Christian Edwards makes Cosmo, the wacky friend (the Donald O’Connor role) his own, with an energised performance that keeps on the right side of charming.  Eleanor Brown is a striking Kathy (the Debbie Reynolds role), with clarity and purity in her vocals, and a sober contrast to Sarah Vezmar’s deliciously monstrous Lina Lamont, the egotistic villain of the piece with a voice like fingernails down a Brooklyn blackboard.  Vezmar almost steals the show but for the stellar quality of handsome hoofer Croke, whose performance is truly phenomenal.

There is not a weak link in the whole shebang.  Philip Starnier amuses as movie producer R. F. Simpson; Helen Power sparkles as professional gossip Dora Bailey; cast members come and go in a range of roles, adding to the fun, the atmosphere and, above all, the music.  The songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, some of which predate even the film by decades, sound fresh – Reeday’s arrangements bring out the romance as well as the fun.  Within a tight performance space, Sian Williams’s choreography emulates Gene Kelly’s, managing to be scaled down without being cramped.  The auditorium fills with talent and its genuinely thrilling to be present, to be so close to such an accomplished company.  Stardust sprinkles on us all, even more than the water.

Director Elizabeth Newman gives us another look at the charm of Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s screenplay, wisely keeping her cast from aping the stars of the film.  The show both meets and exceeds expectations, due to its focus on theatricality rather than the fool’s errand of trying to reproduce cinematic perfection.

As refreshing as a summer shower, this production brings undiluted joy.  My only regret is that it wasn’t raining when I left the theatre; I really wanted to splash about in puddles for myself.  In these dark and uncertain times, we must seize our pleasures where we may, however simple, and life-affirming shows like this have never been more welcome.

 

singin in the rain

Raining supreme: Matthew Croke splashes out

 

 

 


Getting Wood

TALENT

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Saturday 28th May, 2016

 

This production of Victoria Wood’s 1978 play could not be more timely.  Planned before the playwright’s surprising and early death, it now serves as a testament to her brilliance – there is an inevitable memorial air to proceedings, but not in a dour or overt way.  The writer seems very much present; this was an early piece but the style is there: the one-liners, the bathos, the pop culture references (Norman Vaughan, anyone?) along with the witty songs, wherein pain is dressed up in clever rhymes and namedropping of high street brands.

As Maureen, Claire Greenway channels Wood at the paino.  Without attempting an impression, she evokes Wood’s delivery, the timing, the smiles, the eye rolls, while delivering the lyrics as well as Wood’s ornate accompaniments.  I could listen to this all day – but there is much more to the show.

Maureen is accompanying, in a non-musical sense, her friend Julie (Tala Gouveia) to a talent contest in a seedy club.  We go backstage with them to watch Julie prepare, which involves knocking back the Babychams, chain-smoking, and peeing in a hat.  Gouveia is marvellous – her comic timing is spot on, but there is also vulnerability there: her phone call to her no-good boyfriend perhaps reveals more to us than it does to her, and when her history comes to light with club organist Mel (Adam Buchanan), we learn why she wants to escape what her life has become.  Her chance to grasp fame is a way out.  But, not really.

Buchanan is great in his double roles as Mel and the sleazy Compere.  This is the 1970s and sexual harassment is as easy to come by as a raspberry Mivvi.  Mirroring the two women is a double act of male friends, George and Arthur.  George (Brendan Charleson) is an object study in old-school clubland entertainment, in his green jacket and Tony Curtis haircut gone white.  He styles himself as a ‘comedy magician’ and has enlisted as his lovely assistant, Arthur (the sublime Andrew Pollard).  The pair treat us to some vaudeville shenanigans, singing and dancing and some conjuring tricks with scarves and flowers.  It’s a joy to behold them.

The play’s darker side – the exploitation of women in showbiz – is present beneath the surface.  Wood makes her point subtly – above all, she wants to give us a good time.  Which she does, in spades, and it feels like one last time.  The final number has a Sondheimesque feel as, paraphrasing Cabaret, it urges us not to be alone in our rooms but to get out there and enjoy what life has to offer.

An immaculate production, a bittersweet experience, and a fitting tribute to one of this country’s greatest comedy talents, Talent reminds us what we have lost and how lucky we were to have her at all.

talent1

Claire Greenway and Tala Gouveia (Photo: Andrew Billington)


Talking Shop

DIANA OF DOBSON’S

New Vic Theatre, Saturday 7th May, 2016

 

Written in 1908 by Cicely Hamilton, this forward-thinking piece is given a lively revival by the team at the New Vic.  It begins in the dormitory of Dobson’s store, where the shop girls are getting ready for bed.  One of them, the rebellious Diana (Mariam Haque) decries their lot and the starvation wages they are forced to accept.  She’s a firebrand and ahead of her time.  But then she gets news of a surprise inheritance – things turn a bit Spend, Spend, Spend when she decides to blow the lot during a month of living entirely for pleasure.   She winds up at a posh hotel in Switzerland where she is accepted among the toffs, as long as she gives the impression that there is plenty of moolah in her coffers.

With music hall songs interpolated between scenes, Abbey Wright’s likable production creates an Edwardian feel – not least due to Lis Evans’s design work with costume and set.  There is a chirpiness that runs through the show – from Rosie Abraham’s perky Miss Jay, to Kate Cook’s bright-eyed and grasping Mrs Cantelupe.  It has an authentic feel – the songs really help convey the sense of period.  I particularly enjoyed Brendan Charleson’s nouveau riche Jabez, Anne Lacey’s Mrs Whyte-Frazer (along with a couple of other roles that demonstrate versatility) and the sterling support from Susannah Van Den Berg, Ceri-Lyn Cissone and Claire Greenway.  Adam Buchanan shines as well-to-do wastrel Victor, who learns what is truly valuable in this life, and the superlative Andrew Pollard shows us all how it’s done with a delicious song to close the first half, a kind of Sweet Transvestite meets The Lumberjack Song, through the prism of the Edwardian Music Hall.  Absolutely delightful.  Pollard also displays his strengths as a character actor with a warm portrayal of a bobby on the beat.

Unfortunately, the fun and engagement engendered by the songs is not always present in the action.  I find myself interested in the social commentary and the politics rather than affected by Diana’s exploits or her plight.  I think it’s because the leading lady sounds like she comes from another time – she’s a bit too 21st century in her tone and plays it all on the same level.  A bit more light and shade, and a bit more sparkle and pluck might make us fall in love with her a little bit.  Instead, I find I just don’t care.

Yes, the play still – unfortunately – has much to say to us today in these times of the so-called living wage and the slavery of ‘work fare’ but what I come away from it with is an admiration for the ensemble and a rekindled appreciation of the songs of the day.

diana

Rosie Abraham (left) and Mariam Haque (centre)

 


Funny Lass

OUR GRACIE

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Thursday 7th April, 2016

 

In co-production with Oldham Coliseum, the New Vic presents this jaunty take on the life story of one of the first superstars, Rochdale’s own Gracie Fields, tracing her rise from rags to riches, and then from riches to more riches.  What sets this show apart from other biographies that tell a similar tale, is the revue-style presentation.  An ensemble of actor-musicians populates scenes between a host of songs – the scenes are much like sketches, and the actors portray a range of characters.  The lynchpin is Fields herself – Sue Devaney, graces us with a breath-taking performance, evoking the original northern powerhouse in voice and mannerisms.  Devaney captures Fields’s down-to-earth, lowbrow stylings but impersonation is not the point.  What we get is a whistle-stop tour of key events in the entertainer’s life.  Like many of these stories, the first half deals with her rise to the top, and in the second, having achieved success, personal issues come to the four: Gracie’s marriages, her health problems.

Everything is handled with a light touch – even when she is hospitalised with cancer, a kind of seaside postcard humour prevails, deflecting from the drama with moments of heightened theatricality – if you sit on the front row, you may be asked to lend your name to a walk-on character who doesn’t have one.

Kevin Shaw’s direction keeps things bouncing along and the cast singing as they go – the ensemble voices are lovely in harmony, and each member of the company is a versatile musician.  Musical director Howard Gray achieves a period sound from this talented band of actors.

Among the ensemble, Fine Time Fontayne shines, in his element as George Formby (complete with his voyeuristic hit song about a window-cleaner); Liz Carney is especially strong as Gracie’s lifelong friend – she also does a star turn as Edith Piaf; Jonathan Markwood amuses as Gracie’s Italian second husband – as does David Westbrook as her handyman third, while Ben Stock’s uproarious Liberace is laugh-out-loud funny, and Matthew Ganley’s high-speed Hamlet soliloquy is a wonder to behold.

But, inevitably, Sue Devaney dominates, housing gigantic talent in her diminutive frame.  Her Gracie Fields comes across as a home-grown Fanny Brice, combining the ability to belt out songs with camp humour.  She has her downs as well as her ups, but everything is dealt with in such a light and appealing way, it seems that life really is a cabaret.

It’s undemanding fare, to be sure, but as theatre-for-pleasure goes, it doesn’t get much better than this.  Like Sally in Fields’s signature song, this is right up my alley.

sue-devaney-as-gracie-fields-2

I see you, baby, shaking that aspidistra. Sue Devaney as Gracie Fields (Photo: Joel C Fildes)

 


Ballroom Glitz

KISS ME QUICKSTEP

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Thursday 10th March, 2016

 

Amanda Whittington’s new play is already proving popular.  People flock to the New Vic because of the subject matter: a ballroom dancing competition.  They come for the dancing but they stay for the humour and warmth of the characters.  The story follows the fortunes of three couples.  Samantha is a jaded champion, disaffected and drunk – much to the chagrin of her snake-hipped partner Lee.  Nancy is a bright-eyed optimist; having met Luka, a Russian dancer online, she has her father fly him over to partner her for the competition.  Meanwhile, married couple, Justin and Jodie Atherton, are facing money troubles and a run of bad luck.  She is neurotic, he has a gammy knee…  Most of the action takes place backstage – the compere (TV’s Alison Hammond) is a disembodied voice, divine intervention interrupting the rows and rehearsals.

In the rehearsal scenes, we glimpse the anatomy of the dances – this is thrilling in itself – but when the dance numbers come they are truly uplifting.  It’s so much more impressive than watching it on the telly!  Beverley Edmunds’s choreography is spot on, and it’s also dramatised to fit the action – There’s a slow-motion sequence that shows in an expressionistic way how Samantha is alienated by the whole shebang.  The cast is augmented by a talented troupe from the local community, adding to the scale of the enterprise.  The Blackpool ballroom is economically evoked by Dawn Allsop’s design and Daniella Beattie’s versatile lighting.

Amy Barnes keeps Samantha together, through her drunken denials to her liberation, bringing warmth to what could be a diva of a role.  Ed White incorporates Lee’s drive and determination, and is a lovely mover.  Hannah Edwards, a New Vic favourite, brings sweetness to Nancy and also the guts to stand up at last to her overbearing, self-appointed coach of a father (Jack Lord, both affable and menacing).  Also returning to the New Vic is Isaac Stanmore (formerly Robin Hood and Dracula here!) as the Russian dancer and rent-a-Gleb Luka, thrilled to be in Blackpool – for more reasons than one, it turns out.  Stanmore is an engaging presence – technically superb in the dancing (they all are, it has to be said) and exuding both strength and vulnerability – We want him to succeed.  Abigail Moore’s Jodie is tightly wound (and very funny) but as soon as the compere calls her to the dance floor she becomes the consummate performer, supported perfectly by Matt Crosby as husband Justin.  Their big dance number brings the house down and this is because we are invested in them as characters.

It’s a conventional play, deftly handled by resident director Theresa Heskins, who puts the humanity of the characters in the spotlight and allows the script’s metaphors and meaning to work on the audience almost subliminally.  Dance = life, and it’s what you bring to the floor that counts.

Kiss-Me-Quickstep-New-Vic-Theatre-C-Andrew-Billington-

Jack Lord, Hannah Edwards and Isaac Stanmore

 

 


Most Welcome

HERO’S WELCOME

New Vic Theatre, Monday 19th October, 2015

 

Alan Ayckbourn’s latest (yes, he’s still churning them out!) is darker than most of his output but nonetheless as funny as ever. It tells the story of the return to his home town, after 17 years in the armed forces, of local lad Murray (Richard Stacey) acclaimed as a hero for his part in saving a children’s hospital from rebel forces. With him is his sweet, young wife Madrababacascabuna (Terenia Edwards) whose struggles to learn English lead to many an amusing moment.

Trouble is, no one seems happy to have Murray back. It emerges he left town under something of a cloud, having deserted Alice (Elizabeth Boag) at the altar, a woman he stole from former best mate Brad (Stephen Billington). Alice is now Mayor and wields power enough to scupper Murray’s plans to reopen his family’s old hotel.

Murray is the least exaggerated of the characters: Stacey gives him an earnest, likeable manner bringing to mind the skills of Christopher Eccleston, while Terenia Edwards, in her professional debut, sparkles as his wife (I can’t be bothered to type that name out again), growing in confidence in tandem with her vocabulary. Russell Dixon is Alice’s husband and mayoral consort Derek, a gossipy old woman of a man fixated on model railways – a stock Ayckbourn type. Ayckbourn rarely gives us absolute, complete and utter shits (I can think of Paul in Absent Friends) but here with Brad is a villain of unadulterated nastiness. Billington is dashing and dapper enough to offset Brad’s inner ugliness; we enjoy detesting him. Suffering Brad’s emotional and verbal abuse is long-suffering wife Kara – Emma Manton utterly excellent at showing us the pain behind the brave face in an outstanding performance.

Ayckbourn packs a lot in and although Michael Holt’s set is a little cluttered, the three locations-in-one work well to keep the action zipping along. There are underlying themes of the difficulties faced by soldiers who leave the army, and the treatment of immigrants as less-than-human (Brad sees Murray’s wife as fair game in a bet with Derek) but the emphasis is on the personal dramas unfolding, as events of the past come to the fore and the present situation becomes untenable.

It’s as bitter and delicious as dark chocolate, performed by a flawless ensemble and, while not a masterpiece, proves that Ayckbourn is still at the height of his powers, unmatched in his presentation of contemporary human interactions.

Richard Stacey and Terenia Edwards (Photo: Tony Bartholomew)

Richard Stacey and Terenia Edwards (Photo: Tony Bartholomew)


Theatrical Gold – part two

HOARD FESTIVAL (2nd Visit)

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Thursday 16th July, 2015

 

An eagerly anticipated return visit to the New Vic to catch more of the excellent festival of work inspired by the Staffordshire Hoard. Before the double bill in the main house, I catch another couple of ‘table plays’ in the bar.

In Hwaet! by Tom Wells, Elizabeth Elvin plays a woman in cod-Anglo Saxon garb, a mother preparing a surprise party for her daughter who is leaving to study archaeology at university. It’s an amusing monologue – the woman has a very funny turn of phrase – but running through it is a rich vein of emotion that is ever-present in Elvin’s eyes, behind the smiles and the laughter. Lovely stuff.

Sara Pascoe’s Hoarder features a young Anglo Saxon widow who monitors squirrels so she can dig up the nuts that hide away. She is a bit squirrel-like herself and she seeks the stash of gold her late husband buried – she even asks a couple of people around the table to open their bags or empty their pockets. It’s an energised performance from Gwawr Loader, tightly wound and delivered with conviction. Fab.

On to the main double bill.

UNEARTHED by Theresa Heskins

The New Vic’s resident director Theresa Heskins appears (here portrayed by Bryonie Pritchard) to explain how she put the play together. She interviewed a range of people connected with the discovery and then edited their words together to create the narrative. And so the actors speak verbatim words of real-life people. The style mixes naturalism with documentary elements. Pritchard withdraws, substituting us, the audience, as Theresa; the characters now address us, as narrators. This is a fascinating account of an endlessly fascinating story. We meet Terry whose metal detector found the treasure (David Nellist in bluff, amusing tones) and the museum experts whose minds were blown away when he took it to them. Also included is famous TV historian Michael Wood (invoked by the wonderful Adam Morris) who speculates about the nature and the origins of the find. It cracks along at a fair pace; names are projected on the floor to help us keep track of who is whom and images of some of the pieces appear and spread across the stage. There isn’t much in terms of on-stage action but that’s not the point. The documentary style engages us and holds us throughout. As facts and opinions are unearthed, our imagination is stimulated and our sense of wonder activated. Pure gold.

THE GIFT by Jemma Kennedy

This is a story of an Anglo Saxon community thrown into conflict by the return of the menfolk from battle. They bring with them a bag of gold from the recent convert to Christianity, their King. He wants to enlist them to help build a cathedral at Lichfield. The men are up for it; the women not so much. In this society, the women have equal say in decisions and ownership of property – but it’s no egalitarian utopia: they keep bondsmen and slaves to do their bidding.

Jemma Churchill impresses as the formidable matriarchal Wilda, determined to stick to their own ways and values, contrasted sharply with the meek Welsh girl, their slave Cain (Gwawr Loader). David Semark wears the garb and his chieftain’s attitude as though he was born to them, while brash,blokish Beorn (David Kirkbride) shows us lad culture stretches across the centuries. Romayne Andrews is appealing as young man Teon, who is sweet on the slave girl, and Johnson Willis adds to his portrayal of Dudda the bondsman with some sweet lyre-playing. Paula James is ‘wise woman’ Rowena, who interprets dreams and conducts rituals (they are a superstitious bunch) but the rot of Christianity is spreading, infecting hearts and minds, even within this very tribe.

It’s a story of the end of a world. Kennedy’s script has an air of authenticity about it and the production benefits from Lis Evans’s design work in terms of the set and the costumes. Gemma Fairlie’s direction keeps proceedings clear, but the piece seems a little too earnest to me. When Teon elopes with Cain and marries her in a Christian ceremony, she is merely swapping one kind of slavery for another: the new religion diminishes the status of women in society – we’re still working through the consequences.

There is still plenty more going on at the New Vic that I haven’t seen. Like the treasure of the hoard itself, or Anglo Saxon society, I can only glimpse tantalising parts with my understanding incomplete, and the whole thing unknowable.

Unearthed

David Nellist as Terry, the world’s luckiest detectorist


Theatrical Gold

HOARD

New Vic Theatre, Tuesday 7th July, 2015

 

The discovery of buried treasure now known as the Staffordshire Hoard is a fascinating story on its own but the ever-ambitious New Vic Theatre has gone further, unearthing a wealth of creativity and imagination in this festival inspired by the find.

There’s such a lot going on: exhibitions, installations, drama – there’s a dozen five-minute treats called ‘table plays’, where actors mingle in the bar (nothing innovative there!) and address small audiences with monologues and storytelling.  I caught four of the twelve, each one a distinctive jewel.  In Half A Horse by Isy Suttie, a woman (Paula James) searches for her lover who has left her with half of a horse-brooch as a token. It’s funny, down-to-earth and sweet.  In The Foreigner by Lydia Adetunji, Suzanne Ahmet speaks a garnet’s point of view, recounting its ‘life story’ in a beautiful piece of writing, magnetically performed.  David Semark and Johnson Willis perform a potted Beowulf but it’s getting too rowdy in the bar as playgoers continue to arrive.  There’s no such problem with Out of the Dark: The Hoard Speaks, which takes place in an alcove behind a curtain.  A cast of three (David Crellin, Perry Moore and Adam Morris) pore over runic symbols, their faces lit from below by candles.  It’s mesmerising and intimate – the rich words by Alan Garner of Owl Service and Brisingamen fame.  This one turns out to be my favourite (of the four I’ve seen); it’s like going back in time.

To the main business of the evening and the first of a double bill of plays.

THE THRONE by Frazer Flintham

The New Vic’s resident genius Theresa Heskins directs this present-day comedy, set in a Staffordshire pub.  Landlord Sid (David Crellin) and best customer Cliff (David Nellist) play a practical joke on upper class Gordon (Adam Morris), a bit of a smoothie who claims to be a ‘ghost receiver’.  He has a global following on the internet.  The prank misfires and Gordon looks to be made even wealthier by what he finds buried in a field.

It’s a lot of fun, thanks to a likeable script that has more bathos than a Victoria Wood special, and the affectionate depiction of the characters.  David Crellin is spot on as the affable landlord; Gwawr Loader makes a chirpy barmaid, and Elizabeth Elvin is monstrously funny as pretentious and catty Pam.  There is amusing support from Perry Moore as a local news reporter with a dicky tummy.

Cliff has worked in the local toilet factory for 25 years and it falls to him to make the play’s key point: it’s not kings or trinkets that matter, it’s the working men and women who put the king on the throne, who crafted the jewels and fine objects.  Without the working class, the upper class would be nowhere.  It’s a powerful moment without labouring the point.

As Gordon, Adam Morris smarms and charms it up, playing to (web)camera.  It’s traditional stuff: the lower orders making fun of the toffs, and it’s perfectly pitched and highly entertaining.

LARKSONG by Chris Bush

Set in the hoard’s Anglo-Saxon past, this piece is less immediately accessible.  There is a clash of styles at work here.  There is choric speaking where the language is lyrical and alliterative, much like Anglo-Saxon verse and there is some very (perhaps too) modern dialogue that doesn’t quite go with the period setting.  The play would seem less fractured if it picked one style and ran with it.

It tells the story of a group who appropriate a load of valuables but don’t know what to do with it.  It seems their every option will trigger conflict and bloodshed.  It’s an interesting look at how the hoard might have come to be where it ended up but where it works best for me is with its reflections on an earlier bygone era.  The end of the Roman civilisation plunged Europe into the dark ages, a kind of post-apocalyptic society, it seems.

As Lark, Crystal Condie sings beautifully and there is some pleasing interplay between the characters who are all named after creatures.  Romayne Andrews is Mouse, Johnson Willis is Mole, a goldsmith, and Perry Moore is Weasel – I can’t help thinking of Wind in the Willows.   What comes across is that although circumstances have changed, people essentially have not – and I think that’s the point of this festival as a whole. It’s not about the treasures, it’s about people and history and mortality.  Larksong, directed by Gemma Fairlie, has some striking moments rather than being uniformly brilliant throughout.

I’m looking forward to going back to the New Vic soon and seeing some more.

Pictured are cast members Adam Morris as Gordon and Bryonie Pritchard as Peggy (middle) surrounded by cast looking at hoard.

Pictured are cast members Adam Morris as Gordon and Bryonie Pritchard as Peggy (middle) surrounded by cast looking at hoard.

 

 


Behind Closed Doors

PRIVATE LIVES

New Vic Theatre, Wednesday 6th May, 2015

 

Noel Coward’s comedy is like champagne, with its sparkling, effervescent wit and dry humour, and it’s easy to regard it as a light bit of froth. This comedy, though, has bite.

The Octagon Theatre Bolton brings this production to the New Vic and it’s a good fit for the space. In the round, we are the walls surrounding the private lives of the couple in question. They are Elyot (Harry Long) a louche, witty fellow who seems to speak almost entirely in adverbs (terribly, beastly, ghastly and so on) and Amanda (Fiona Hampton) spirited and lively – it is clear these two are made for each other. Except when the play begins, they are honeymooning with their respective new spouses. Coincidence books them into adjacent hotel suites and, out on the balcony, they meet again, five years after their explosive marriage ended in divorce. It is soon clear that passions still run high between them. Harry Long shifts gear from urbane commentator to man-with-heart-on-his-sleeve, showing us how swiftly Amanda pushes Elyot’s buttons. Fiona Hampton too reveals the depth beneath Amanda’s party girl façade. Director Elizabeth Newman handles their mood swings and escalating rows so that the emotional exchanges and savage remarks sound natural, even in Coward’s of-its-time and epigrammatic dialogue.

Jessica Baglow is appealing as Elyot’s sweet-natured second wife Sibyl and Niall Costigan is suitably blustering as Amanda’s second husband Victor. They track their spouses to a love-nest in Paris where passion boils over into violent outbursts and domestic violence. Clearly, Elyot and Amanda are like koi carp and shouldn’t be penned up together, but then they’re obviously made for each other.

There is an appearance by Chiraz Aich as French maid Louise, here played as a touch of naturalism in this world of heightened wit and emotion. I have seen the part portrayed as a caricature but I like this better: this Louise is the litmus paper that shows us how extreme is the behaviour of the others.

Amanda Stoodley’s design is elegant black and white for the hotel balcony scenes – the polarity of Elyot and Amanda’s mood swings! – and cosy and brown with period furniture for the scenes behind closed doors.

We may not speak the way Coward’s characters do – perhaps no one ever did – but he shows us that behind the veneer of civility and what we might call ‘banter’ today, animal passions are just below the surface. Elyot and Amanda run with theirs, thereby triggering similar depths of feeling in their abandoned spouses.

An engaging and amusing production – the fights (directed by Terry King) are kept just short of shocking. In the end, you admire the strength of the performances by this excellent ensemble rather than applauding the conduct of the characters

Here we go again!  Fiona Hampton and Harry Long as Amanda and Elyot.

Here we go again! Fiona Hampton and Harry Long as Amanda and Elyot.

.


Dodgy Lodgers

THE LADYKILLERS

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Tuesday 14th April, 2015

 

Working in collaboration with Hull Truck, the New Vic stages this new production of the West End hit adaptation of the much-loved Ealing comedy film. Having seen both the film and the original tour, I was intrigued to see how they would stage this rather housebound story where doors and windows are very important, in the round.

The answer is: brilliantly. Patrick Connellan’s set works on different levels, so to speak. Mrs Wilberforce’s cluttered house is represented by platforms, seemingly held up by stacks of books and suitcases. The upstairs room she leases to a lodger is higher up – with a suggestion of the window and the roof and railway tracks beyond. Doors are stunted, sawn-off affairs that delineate the boundaries of one space and another and the furniture keeps us in post-war London. A flight of stairs is formed from treads that look like suitcases, adding to the cluttered look but also heightens the setting so that the farcical aspects of the plot are accentuated. Radio announcers and telephone callers pop up out of the floor. We are at a remove from reality and it works very well.

Anna Kirke is marvellous as sprightly old biddy Mrs Wilberforce, a seemingly frail and delicate and not to mention dotty character, forever bothering the police with paranoid tales of Nazis in the newsagents. Timothy Speyer’s Constable is a slice of old England and helps set the tone for the rest of the piece, although Graham Linehan’s adaptation of William Rose’s screenplay has a more modern line in gags. Speyer also appears as Mrs Tromleyton, along with a host of old ladies, not all of them female and not all of them clean-shaven. It’s a Pythonesque moment, again underlining the Britishness of the humour.

Andy Gillies is superb as One Round, a heavy who is endearingly thick. But there is menace in his physicality. Matthew Rixon, by contrast, is Major Courtney, an old-school English gent type with a fondness for frocks, in a delicious performance of suppressed camp. Matt Sutton brings energy as pill-popping Teddy Boy Harry Robinson, and the marvellous Michael Hugo brings darkness as vicious Romanian killer Louis. Hugo is deadpan for the most part, looking like Eddie Munster or Nosferatu at times and his emotional outbursts are perfectly pitched for both humour and threat.

But the night belongs to Andrew Pollard as leader of the pack, Professor Marcus, with a crazy haircut and a scarf Tom Baker’s Doctor would kill for. Pollard’s characterisation fills the stage with erudition, false good manners, and a camp sensibility. His pretensions eventually prove to be his downfall as in the second act, events take a much darker turn. Director Mark Babych handles the changes of tone expertly even though sometimes the action seems a little cramped. The crazy set becomes a hell of passing trains with their noise and their steam, and a real sense of nastiness comes into play. Suddenly the comedy is very black indeed.

The Ladykillers is an enjoyable romp with an edge of menace. It’s nostalgic and yet fresh, thanks to a very funny script, played to a tee by an ensemble of all-round excellence. The message is clearly that crime doesn’t pay, but I would urge you to beg, borrow or, yes, even steal a ticket if you have to.

Pictured left to right: Anna Kirke as Mrs Louisa Wilberforce, Andy Gillies as One-Round, Matthew Rixon as Major Courtney, Michael Hugo as Louis Harvey, Andrew Pollard as Professor Marcus and Matt Sutton as Harry Robinson during rehersals at the New Vic Theatre Photo: The Sentinel

Pictured left to right: Anna Kirke as Mrs Louisa Wilberforce, Andy Gillies as One-Round, Matthew Rixon as Major Courtney, Michael Hugo as Louis Harvey, Andrew Pollard as Professor Marcus and Matt Sutton as Harry Robinson during rehersals at the New Vic Theatre
Photo: The Sentinel