Tag Archives: Nick Walker

Double-edged War Puns

OVER THE TOP

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Saturday 8th December, 2018

 

It’s become quite a tradition at the Belgrade that while the panto is on in the main house, the B2 studio hosts an alternative, something for the grown-ups.  This year, writer Nick Walker chooses the centenary commemorations of the end of the First World War and of the start of the women’s suffrage movement as the basis for this pun-riddled romp.

As ever, the script is jam-packed with groanworthy gags, delivered with the rapidity and subtlety of a machine gun, as it tells the story of four men enlisted to go to the Front to rescue a troupe of actresses.  The cast is entirely female – the reason for which becomes apparent by the end.

Laura Tipper sings sweetly as Bell, and harumphs horribly as Sidebottom, complete with period moustache.  Aimee Powell is dashing as Ashwell, dapper in black tie and tails.  Kimisha Lewis shows her versatility as Flowers, a German, and a balletic Red Baron.  Miriam Grace Edwards is magical as stage magician Mickey… The ladies have several roles each and are well-matched for talent and likeability.

Walker’s clever script has a repeating plot device, taking us back time and again to a music hall, interspersed with scenes of action and espionage reminiscent of a John Buchan.  Director Katy Stephens, a veteran of several of these shows, paces the delivery to perfection.  There is a silent-movie type sequence involving a bomb in a French restaurant that is superb, and a break from the otherwise relentless barrage of bad jokes.  (“Is it snails?” “No, this is a fast food restaurant.”)

It’s not all daftness and running around.  Walker, recognising the solemnity of the occasion, provides a sucker punch ending.  We’ve all seen how Blackadder turned out; here the impact is equally if not more powerful as it is revealed that the characters are all based on real women, and there really was a mission to rescue the actresses.  The final moments commemorate the contributions of women to the war effort and the sacrifices they made, something that many of the events we have seen over the past four years have overlooked.

Delightfully corny, rib-ticklingly daft, and ultimately sobering, this is a solid hour of entertainment with a powerful message.

OTT

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All Puns Blazing

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY SISTERS

B2, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Friday 8th December, 2017

 

One Christmas tradition that doesn’t get me bah-humbugging all the way home, is the Belgrade Theatre’s annual alternative production to the (excellent) pantomime in the main house.  The B2 studio becomes home to a show for the grown-ups, in a genre- as well as gender-bending cavalcade of bad jokes.  This year, riffing on Cinderella, writer-director Nick Walker gives us a Western with a cast of four women, playing cowboys.  There is a plot, a chase to beat the bad guy to some buried treasure, and along the way we encounter a range of tropes (the saloon, the train, the Native American guide) as well as a host of larger-than-life characters performed by this versatile and industrious quartet.

Doc (the mighty Katy Stephens) is our protagonist and narrator.  Such is her wry charm, we let her get away with the worst puns imaginable without rising up and lynching her.  She is supported by the Magnificent Three: Miriam Edwards, Laura Tipper and Aimee Powell, in this relentless barrage of fun.  Some of the jokes are as old as the hills and the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye, but there is plenty of invention in the pun-fire, lots of new material to make groan-ups of us all.

Walker evidently spends the rest of the year writing jokes for Christmas crackers, and is possessed of a particular kind of genius.  For example, the treasure could be silver, could be gold – it could be either ore.

I can hear you groaning from here.  This type of thing is perhaps an acquired taste.  It is certainly right up my alley.

Performing with indefatigable brio, the cast pull out all the stops to keep the laughs coming, and the knowing looks add to the fun.  We are not expected to take a second of it seriously – but the cast certainly do, playing with commitment and skill – the comic timing is superb; and the production values are certainly no joke.  The Belgrade’s in-house production services dress the show in quality costumes.  I love the tumbleweeds that punctuate the script’s worst excesses and the horses are hot to trot.  A simple but effective set with a sunset backcloth serves for all locations, allowing the performers to do most of the work, while the sound effects (Rob Clews) and the lighting (Chris Munn) evoke the genre while augmenting the humour.

It’s an hour of fantastic fun and it makes me think we don’t see many Westerns on the stage.  Yes, there are musicals and opera set in the Wild West but no ‘straight’ plays?  It’s a gap in the market perhaps I can head off at the pass…

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The Magnificent Four: Laura Tipper, Aimee Powell, Katy Stephens and Miriam Edwards (Photo: Robert Day)

 


Clever Dick

PRIVATE DICK WHITTINGTON

B2, Belgrade Theatre, Thursday 8th December, 2016

 

While the pantomime larges it in the main house, it has become a tradition in the Belgrade’s studio space to stage an alternative version.  It has also become a highlight of the season for me.  Last year’s excellent Vampomime was one of my top shows of 2015.

private

Writer Nick Walker – a very inventive man – frames his version of Dick Whittington in the film noir genre of The Maltese Falcon.  Dick is a private detective, a Sam Spade figure, making wisecracks and firing off puns like a machine-gun.  Walker cleverly marries tropes of the genre with aspects of the panto story: Dick is framed for theft, there’s a shipwreck, a sultan, a cat… It’s an amazing feat of writing and those puns (‘She went to South America? I don’t Bolivia!’) are delightfully groan-worthy.

Heading the company is Keeley Harker as the eponymous detective – a homage to the tradition of principal boy.  Her delivery is pitch-perfect, rattling off pun after pun with exquisite timing and a Noo Yoik accent.    She is more than ably supported by a versatile trio who play all the other parts.  Nicky Cross’s femme fatale, Lauren Alderman, is a sultry vamp, beautifully melodramatic as she stalks and poses around the stage.  Anna Piper’s roles include the cat (here a magician’s assistant), a snake charmer and a hypnotist’s wife, all of them larger-than-life and very funny.  Liam Nooney is suitably villainous as Mr Hypnoza and his Sultan turns out to be a rather camp Northerner.

It’s as silly as it is clever.  Director Robin Colyer adds visual gags to complement the incessant punning and keeps the action rattling along at quite a lick.  It adds up to an hour of laugh-out-loud fun.  Wonderfully daft, energetically and amusingly handled, this Dick brings pleasure to everyone.

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Smoking pun: Keeley Harker as Dick and Nicky Cross as Lauren Alderman (Photo: Robert Day)


Yes It Most Definitely Is

OH NO IT ISN’T

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 10th December, 2014

 

In the Belgrade’s B2 Studio there’s an alternative to the traditional pantomime playing in the main house. This show is pitched at adult audiences and is a refreshing antidote to the season of good will that has been forced down our throats since October.

It begins backstage during a performance of Jack & The Beanstalk. Both halves of a pantomime cow are desperately looking for a gun needed for the next scene. What the front half doesn’t know is that the rear end is in league with the actress playing the giant; they are assassins hired to bump off the principal boy…

A farce unfolds with real and prop guns, poisoned and unpoisoned apples. When the scene changes to the actual performance the sense of desperation and tension escalates. With more twists than a corkscrew factory, Nick Walker’s plot moves along at breakneck speed – it has to, to fit into an hour’s running time. It’s also a very funny script with a rich vein of corny humour you expect from seasonal entertainment.

The cast of four work their tights off to keep it going. As an audience though, we need warming up a bit. It takes us a while to get with it. Emily May Smith is the diminutive, shock-haired giant and hired killer, wide-eyed and energetic. Robert Kidd is hilarious as the rear end of the pantomime cow and a comedy vicar in a performance that would not be amiss in Royston Vasey. Tom Shepherd’s front half of the cow is the more down-to-earth of the quartet but has a nice line in physical comedy. However it is Jack him-herself who takes the crown. The mighty Katy Stephens is superb as the overbearing actress that people want dead. Not above poking fun at herself and her RSC experiences, she commands the stage, desperate to keep the increasingly shambolic panto going and outwit her would-be killers at every turn. It’s a powerhouse performance of comedic skill and Stephens is more than ably supported by the other three.

The action becomes increasingly manic culminating in one final twist like a punchline to the hilarious hour.

Oh No It Isn’t – once you warm to it – has much to enjoy. It’s well worth dropping into the theatre for an hour to get yourself in a good mood before the rest of your night out.

Silly Cow.  Katy Stephens pulls the udder one.

Silly Cow. Katy Stephens pulls the udder one.