Tag Archives: Nicola Weeks

Chilling on a Summer Night


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 16th July, 2013


The Ian Dickens Summer Season draws to a close with this fourth offering, an effective chiller from 1930 by Emlyn Williams.   It plays out like a murder mystery, typical of that genre, but there is a supernatural element to proceedings that turn it into a ghost story towards the end.

The plot concerns an unusual party that takes place on stage of an empty theatre, rented for the occasion of Lord Jasper’s 50th birthday.  According to the terms of a will, if he can survive until 11 pm, he stands to inherit a couple of million quid.  Lord Jasper is something of an expert in all things occult and the theatre is reputed to have its own ghostly apparitions – hence his choice of location.  Also in the running is Jasper’s only surviving relative, a mystery man who will inherit if the old boy doesn’t make it to midnight…

It’s a creaky old plot but once it’s up and running you go along for the ride, thanks to the performances by a strong ensemble of players.  Paul Lavers is dashing and flamboyant as genial eccentric Sir Jasper with Nicola Weeks very good as his young bride.  It seems to me Weeks is more suited to these period roles than some of the more contemporary comedies I’ve seen her in.  The bride’s mother is the marvellous Anita Harris, looking glamorous and elegant, balancing superciliousness and desperation, as she tries to protect her daughter’s interests.  Also in the mix is handsome young hero Jimmy North (the likeable Mark Martin) who worms his way into the party – as a character, he fizzles out in that he is not part of bringing the murderer to light, but that’s all part of how Emlyn Williams plays with the genre.  I was impressed by Karen Ford as Mrs Wragg, a character part of strung-together colloquialisms, managing to keep on the right side of gor-blimey; she adds a touch of levity to proceedings and also helps to build the spooky atmosphere.  Poppy Meadows adds to the tension as jumpy Miss Groze, although we discover the reason for her nervousness is nothing to do with the theatre ghost…

Of course, the mysterious relative shows up.  Oliver Mellor dominates his scenes as Maurice Mullins, whose camp, extrovert exterior masks a Machiavellian heart, playing him with energy but keeping the melodramatic elements of the role toned down somewhat.  Any pretence at a whodunit is swept away and the play shifts gear.  Supernatural elements are brought to bear to expose the killer – like Banquo’s ghost at the dinner table.  Directors Ian Dickens and David North crank the tension slowly and play the dramatic irony to the utmost but the first appearance of the ‘Woman’ (Melissa Thomas) could do with being a touch more unworldly.  Good use is made of silence (when the audience is not coughing itself inside out, that is!) and Steve Chambers’s sound design adds to the sense of foreboding very effectively.

It’s an old-fashioned piece, a little longwinded in places, but it’s handled well and bears up in this day and age when we are more accustomed to flashier special effects and faster-moving stories.


Dead Boring

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 25th July, 2012

Ron Aldridge’s new play deviates, but not very far, from his usual output. There is the middle-class setting you would expect and a bunch of well-spoken middle-class characters, and a humorous (largely sarcastic) tinge to the dialogue, but the aim of the show is something different. This is a supernatural psychological thriller. Or something. I don’t know.

It is so uneven in tone you can’t tell what it’s supposed to be. You quickly discover you don’t care.

It begins in the hideous lavender bedroom of the protagonist’s mistress. He (Peter Amory) is on the phone to her – he has been cleared of all suspicion of murder and is in the mood to celebrate. As he makes lovey-dovey sounds on the phone, a woman in black (hah!) shows up, making obvious signs of distaste at every sweet nothing she overhears. This is his wife (Joanne Heywood) or rather his ex-wife or rather (and you work this out in seconds flat) his late wife. She is a ghost on a campaign of nagging, cajoling and even seducing the truth out of him. That she is tangible and very obviously a physical presence is glossed over by some nonsense.

The mistress (Nicola Weeks) comes home and wants to have her way with the confused and distracted Amory. Meanwhile he is repeatedly grabbed by the goolies by the ghoul, who mocks him for his inability to perform. The ‘adult’ nature of the scene is just embarrassing. Imagine Fifty Shades of Grey enacted by the parish council.

The first act closes with the surprise arrival of a second ghost (Nick Ricketts) looking like Timothy Claypole – if he had been an accountant or a supply teacher rather than a court jester – entering through the bed – a trick seen before in Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein. Yawn.

This is the ghost of the girlfriend’s brother. It is a spirited performance by Ricketts but he has to chew through great swathes of exposition, describing the kind of afterlife that is rife with management-speak and pop psychology bullshit. The ghosts have come back to help the murderer process his crimes – this is a twist on the usual trope of ghost stories where it is the revenant that has unfinished business. Trouble is, the new age, pseudo professional manner of the ghost denies him any chance of instilling fear or eliciting pity.

Through a series of regressions, he forces Amory to relive key scenes from the past. He mimes pulling off a doll’s head. Because he got away with this terrible act, the ghost reasons, he was prompted to move on to do it again. We see Amory tangle with Ricketts in a cliff top quarrel (on the bed) resulting in the death of Ricketts. Meanwhile, the dead wife has found she can sort of communicate with the mistress. If she says Bloody Hell, then the mistress says Bloody Hell.

It really is a tortuous load of old tripe, weighed down by its own bollocks. Repeated mention of ‘contradictory impulse syndrome’, ‘bringing information forward’ and the ‘essence of knowledge’ sent shudders down my spine, strangling any chance this production has of creating atmosphere. As an examination of the psychological effects of murder on the murderer, it seems trite and obvious. How I longed for Banquo’s Ghost or indeed any scene from Macbeth, Shakespeare’s exploration of the same theme without recourse to buzz words and jargon.

The cast keep it going earnestly enough but their belief in the convoluted rubbish doesn’t transmit to the audience. None of the revelations surprises. None of the characters is sympathetic enough to make you give a fig about the unsurprising outcome.

A real disappointment – when done properly, scary plays work better than scary films.

Over and Out

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 17th July, 2012

Chris Paling’s new comedy plants us firmly in Ayckbourn territory with the action split between the kitchen and garden of a suburban semi. It begins with Peter (Colin Baker) apparently dozing on a garden chair. He is listening to a radio broadcast of his beloved cricket and is clearly in his element. It takes him quite some time to become aware that his wife (Karen Ford) has packed up all the furniture and sold the house out from behind him. She has drawn stumps and is about to leave him to begin her new life with a lover she found on the internet, skinny-dipping at Bexhill-on-Sea.

This is the run-up to the main action of the play; when the housebuyers move in, they are dismayed to find Peter hasn’t left. He’s still in the garden, listening to the seemingly interminable cricket. The man (Peter Amory off of Emmerdale) takes a shine to his surprise squatter. The two men bond over the cricket and share sneaky cups of tea when the wife’s out. The wife herself (Nicola Weeks), a shrew in anybody’s book, is keen to get rid. She summons a policeman (Michael Garland) who, rather than evicting the unwelcome guest, ends up demonstrating ballroom dancing. It’s the silliest moment, the most contrived circumstance, in this otherwise grounded comedy.

Colin Baker’s delivery manages to make the bewildered and infuriating Peter both affable and tiresome. You can understand his wife’s frustration. He is adept at veering off at tangents, hijacking conversations with whimsical extrapolation, like a commentator who waxes lyrical about the birds and the clouds rather than focussing on the pitch. He spends most of the play in his wicker chair but at times reveals glimpses of the heart of the man. It turns out he’s not as selfish and inconsiderate as he at first appears. You can’t help liking him and his assertiveness at the very end, knocking his scheming wife for six, brings a satisfactory close of play.

Peter Amory adopts a gruffer accent than usual, in sharp contrast to his wife’s snooty airs and graces – she makes Penelope Keith’s Margot seem like a fishwife. They play out their marital strife, brought to a head by the interloper in the garden; he is the catalyst that helps them resolve their issues after ten years of discord. I wondered how they’d lasted that long.

It’s all rather watchable, amusing rather than having you in creases but, as with a cricket match, there are slow periods where you’re willing the action to perk up a bit. As a play about marriage it offers nothing new: communication is key, apparently. There is darkness and pain in these characters’ lives but you can’t help feeling that Ayckbourn would have handled these better and with greater theatrical flair.