Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 8th March 2022
Dan Brown’s best-selling thriller, having already been a film starring Tom Hanks, now comes to the stage in this slick and stylised adaptation, with Nigel Harmon in the leading role as nerdy action hero and symbologist, Robert Langdon, who finds himself accused of murder when a body is found in the Louvre with the deceased’s handwriting naming Langdon, among a load of gobbledy-gook. Langdon is an expert in gobbledy-gook and he teams up with the putatively French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu (Hannah Rose Caton). With no further ado, we’re off on a treasure hunt, with puzzles to solve and codes to crack.
Luke Sheppard’s direction keeps the cast of ten on stage most of the time, involving them in the action, vocally and often physically, as well as making their individual appearances as characters Langdon and Neveu encounter along the way. David Woodhead’s elegant set is dominated by Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man — you know the fellow, like Jim Morrison doing star jumps. Aided by Llyr Parri’s video and sound designs, the unfolding mystery is laid out before us. There’s a lot to listen to, a lot to keep up with.
Nigel Harmon makes for a personable Robert Langdon: the geekish enthusiasm, the mansplaining, the claustrophobia, are all here, and he is ably supported by Hannah Rose Caton’s Sophie, who is also full to the brim with exposition. Almost stealing the show is Red Dwarf’s Danny John-Jules as the eccentric Sir Leigh Teabing, clearly enjoying himself.
Alpha Kargbo’s Detective Fache charges around, shouting a lot, while Andrew Lewis is sympathetic as the murdered man, Sauniere (in flashbacks!). Joshua Lacey is a decidedly menacing presence as the self-flagellating assassin Silas.
The plot cracks along at speed. Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel’s script could do with a couple of breathing spaces so we can digest each revelation, but thinking time is sacrificed in favour of pace. Otherwise, it’s a faithful adaptation that translates well into action, performed by a strong ensemble who work like a well-oiled machine.
Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Thursday 21st February, 2019
Having enjoyed this production during its London run, I am delighted to catch it again on tour with a new cast. David Mamet’s sweary piece about the cutthroat world of real estate offers plenty of opportunity for fine character work and this new company does not disappoint. The short first act is comprised of three separate duologues in a classy Chinese restaurant, and here we meet the main players.
Mark Benton (currently enjoying huge success in Shakespeare & Hathaway) is faded salesman Shelly Levene, desperate to claw his way back to the top of the Salesman of the Month board. Benton is superb; we actually feel some measure of sympathy for the man as he struggles to regain his glory days in this very dirty game.
Top of the board is Ricky Roma, a very handsome Nigel Harman, of EastEnders fame. He is top of this food chain, a predator, and it’s a pleasure to watch him at work – just as we might enjoy the shark in Jaws chomping its way through the cast. Harman gives us Roma’s skill at manipulation, his charm and his arrogance, but the sparks really fly when he loses his rag.
These two are supported by a tight company. Wil Johnson’s increasingly despairing George; Scott Sparrow’s distant Williamson; Zephryn Taitte’s rough and tough detective… James Staddon is almost understated as Lingk, Roma’s latest customer/victim, unable to stand up for himself against the barrage of Roma tricks. Denis Conway makes a strong impression as the angry and aggressive Dave. You want toxic masculinity? Throw in some problematic remarks about race and you get the measure of how distasteful this milieu is.
Mamet makes great use of stichomythia – the timing is impeccable – to build up natural speech rhythms. He punctuates the argot of the profession with the copious use of profanity. The men throw words at each other like punches – when they’re not trying to dominate proceedings with some anecdote or philosophising. The relentless effing and jeffing adds to the intensity and also the humour of the exchanges. It all adds up to a compelling piece of theatre. Definitely not an advertisement for capitalism, this play is a chance to see actors at the top of the game, delivering an electrifying script and reminding us, because apparently some people still need reminding, that greed is not good, and financial gain at the cost of one’s compassion is never a price worth paying.
Sold! Mark Benton and Nigel Harman (Photo: Marc Brenner)
Adapted from the hit French play by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patelliere, this is a scathing comedy based on a staple of middle-class theatre: the dinner party. Husband and wife Peter and Elizabeth are expecting Elizabeth’s brother, Vincent and his pregnant partner Anna to share a Moroccan buffet. Completing the party is Elizabeth’s best friend, Carl, a camp trombonist. With Vincent as a narrator, supplying both prologue and epilogue, our views of the others are very much coloured by his acidic disdain, and the scene is set for a banterful evening during which characters say the kinds of things that only close friends and siblings can say to each other behind closed doors. We very much enjoy the barbs and pot shots, as well as the savaging of middle-class pretensions (double-barrelled surnames as a sop to equality, ridiculous forenames – Peter and Elizabeth’s offspring are saddled with ‘Gooseberry’ and ‘Apollinaire’!)
It all kicks off when Vincent (Nigel Harmon) announces his unborn son will be named Adolf. Cue an explosive discourse about morality and freedom of expression. Here the play touches on many of the same points as comedian Richard Herring’s show ‘Hitler Moustache’ – but this argument is only for starters. Other revelations are to come that rock the quintet to the core.
Harmon is in excellent form as the roguish Vincent, sadistically winding people up. Jamie Glover’s Peter, adopting the moral high ground, gets a lot of stick, as does Carl (Raymond Coulthard). Olivia Poulet is classy as the pregnant Anna, while Sarah Hadland out-middle classes the lot with her menu and preoccupations. Hadland delivers the show-stopping speech of the night, when Elizabeth finally blows her top, in a masterly display of temper-loss.
Each member of this tight ensemble gets their moments to shine, but it is the embittered scenes of Vincent and Peter at loggerheads that carry the biggest frissons. Director and adaptor Jeremy Sams handles the crescendos of the arguments and the conversational pace of the discussions so that it feels we are eavesdropping on the neighbours. We enjoy being mocked, we trendy lefties, and pride ourselves on being big enough to take it – and I’ve just made myself sick! These people are like us, the audience, the play admonishes, and we must not let our middle-class sensibilities get in the way of what is truly important: those close relationships that are both fragile and resilient at the same time.
In the same vein as Yasmin Reza’s God of Carnage, this play delivers an endless stream of laughter through a prism of sharp social satire, expertly performed by a top-notch cast of comedic actors.
Jamie Glover, Raymond Coulthard and Nigel Harman (Photo: Robert Day)
THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
Malvern Theatres, Malvern, Tuesday 24th July, 2012
This revival of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1777 comedy of manners is an absolute peach. From the elegant panelled set to the sumptuous costumes and wigs, Jamie Lloyd’s production brings a taste of the eighteenth century to life. But this is much more than a period piece. Sheridan’s script crackles with wit and is effulgent with epigrams that seem painfully pertinent to the society of today. It is also interesting to see how much Sheridan is a forerunner of Wilde.
The play exposes to us the idle classes whose main source of amusement is the denigration of their peers through malicious and scandalous gossip. We laugh along with this bitch-fest but we also laugh at the hypocrisy of the main purveyors of this gossip, these assassins of character who show little regard for facts. You see it on Twitter every day, only the targets are not the idle rich but the celebrities who fill the media with their supposed antics. If you’re a stranger to Twitter, think along the lines of Mock The Week, where the same shorthand jokes are repeated on a weekly basis, based on some perceived trait or reported incident.
The opening scenes are like tucking into a box of fondant fancies – delectable, irresistible but you know you shouldn’t be so self-indulgent. Then the main action of the plot begins to unfold: an absentee uncle returns and puts his two nephews to a test of their mettle. An old man comes to an understanding with his WAG young bride. It is an ebullient, effervescent bit of fun, a bottle of champagne, and the acting style – the mannered delivery, the poses and posturing – is perfectly pitched to keep the thing zipping along, and the bubbly flowing.
An excellent ensemble provides an indefatigable source of delight. Maggie Steed is superb as hypocritical monster, Mrs Candour; Grant Gillespie, dressed like Mozart’s wayward little brother, out-camps everyone as preening ninny, Sir Benjamin Backbite; Ian McNeice has an amusing bluster as scheming Uncle Oliver; and the swoonworthy Nick Harman is charming as affable rogue Charles. But for me, the comedy crown goes to Edward Bennett as Joseph Surface who, in the second half, delivers a comic performance of energy and barely-contained frenzy as he tries to keep a lid on the situation that is unravelling before him. He goes from the studied sneering mannerisms of the age to a frantic Basil Fawlty in full flight, skipping and grinning with increasing desperation as he tries to maintain his public persona. I also loved Susannah Fielding as the insensitive and selfish Lady Teazle, for whom fashion and being ‘in’ are all – like a ‘character’ from TOWIE but in infinitely superior clothes; but in truth, the entire cast is responsible for a fast-moving, almost farcical couple of hours of the rarest quality.
Director Jamie Lloyd handles everything with a light-touch. There are some lovely bits of business here, from the campery of the servants to business with picture frames. The classic scene when Lady Teazle is discovered eavesdropping behind a screen was superbly done – the shocked reactions were heightened to just the right amount to make it credible within the onstage world. The play holds up a mirror to today, where gossip thrives in new media and old and warns us against believe, spreading and embellishing false report. It is an affectionate condemnation of a distasteful aspect of human nature rather than a moralising cautionary tale – and I’ll tell you this, and don’t keep it to yourself but a more stylish and lively evening in the theatre you’d be hard pressed to find.