Tag Archives: Northern Broadsides

Winning by a Nose

CYRANO

New Vic Theatre, Tuesday 7th February, 2017

 

The New Vic has teamed up with Northern Broadsides for this new version of the classic romance by Edmond Rostand.  Writer Deborah McAndrew cleverly keeps the play as a verse drama – it’s not just rhyming couplets and doggerel; it’s a technical achievement in itself, let alone its faithfulness to the original while having an altogether fresh feel.  It’s her best work yet.

Director Conrad Nelson blends naturalism with more heightened moments – the changes in pace and tone of each act are handled to perfection.  We laugh, we love, we cry – in all the right places.  Nelson has also composed the score, performed by the ensemble of actor-musicians, that adds to the period feel and the emotional impact of each act.  Led for the most part by Michael Hugo’s Ligniere, the music casts its spell as much as the story and the characters.  Hugo is such an appealing presence as the minstrel – I also enjoy his ham actor Monfleury, heckled off the stage by the eponymous Cyrano.

Christian Edwards in the title role is outstanding – and I don’t just mean his massive conk.  He is everything you could wish for in a Cyrano de Bergerac.  Swaggering, witty, charming, brave and selfless.  Edwards plays it with panache, literally and figuratively.  He is supported by a team of excellent players: Sharon Singh is an elegant Roxane, headstrong and independent – worthy of Cyrano’s devotion.  Adam Barlow is the handsome but dim Christian, the third point of the love triangle – he contrasts nicely with Cyrano’s erudition and we can’t help but see how sweet he is.  Andy Cryer’s De Guiche changes our opinion – we see there’s more to him than the figure lampooned by Ligniere.  Paul Barnhill’s poetic pastry-purveyor Ragueneau, Perry Moore’s prancing ponce Valvert, Jessica Dyas’s sardonic Mrs Ragueneau, Francesca Mills’s busybody Sister Martha, all help to populate the story with a wide range of characters, different facets of humanity – Rostand has respect for all walks of life and yet he makes Cyrano seem more human than all of us.  Especially touching is Andrew Whitehead’s Le Bret, his heart breaking to see Cyrano’s decline.

Lis Evans’s design is stylish – the stage floor is beautiful – and the New Vic’s costume department has pulled out all the stops for the 17th century setting.  Daniella Beattie’s lighting emulates the soft glow of the chandeliers with the occasional shaft of brightness – like Cyrano’s wit, enlivening the gloom.

Cyrano’s panache tickles the funny bone before plunging into your heart.  I know it’s only February but already I think I might have seen the show of the year.

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“You don’t have to put on the red light…” Cyrano (Christian Edwards) and Roxane (Sharon Singh)  Photo: Steve Bould


Clogged With Emotion

AN AUGUST BANK HOLIDAY LARK

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Friday 7th February, 2014

 

No one can be unaware that it’s a hundred years since World War I broke out.  We must prepare for a barrage of works that commemorate the start of hostilities.  This early salvo comes from the formidable Northern Broadsides, in the form of a brand new piece by Deborah McAndrew.  Rather than show us the horrors of the trenches, McAndrew keeps the action wholly within a small community of millworkers.

It’s Wakes Week, a welcome relief from the rigours of t’mill and the locals revert to a more pastoral kind of activity as they put flowers around their hats and practice their clog dancing.  There’s a bit of a star-crossed love story as show-off Frank (Darren Kuppan) courts Mary (Emily Butterfield) behind her blustering father’s back.  McAndrew gives us cheeky humour too as dopey Herbert (Mark Thomas) asks an older man to have a look at ‘it’ for him – before revealing it’s a banner he has painted for the festival.  The script is peppered with detail, giving us a glimpse into a way of life that has all but disappeared, a way of life that the Great War did much to help eradicate.

The dancing is a joyful spectacle, choreographed by Conrad Nelson. There is the building of a ‘rushcart’ that is akin to an Amish barn-raising.  The male actors give off energy that is infectious, while the female actors play the music.  As a dramatic device it gives focus to the story, while the recruiting and the fighting all takes place off-stage.  McAndrew uses recurring motifs – lines of dialogue, symbols – to wrap her storytelling in a neat package with maximum emotional impact.

The cast is a fine one.  Ben Burman’s William is good-natured if a bit dim compared to poetic brother Edward (Jack Quarton) – both establish themselves in our hearts before they ‘take the shilling’.  Elizabeth Eves is strong as hard-working matriarch Alice Armitage and Lauryn Redding is notable as Susie Hughes, a local girl embittered by the impact of the war on her love-life.

Director Barrie Rutter is also mardy patriarch and windbag John Farrar, given to bluster and sarcasm.  He is also party to one of the play’s most moving scenes, punctured by the turn of events.  Emily Butterfield is also superb when bad news strikes her like a lightning bolt – Of course, in a story about young men going off to war, you know it’s inevitable that sooner or later someone is going to (sorry) pop their clogs.  Here it is handled beautifully and there is a final punch in the gut, theatrically speaking, to remind us that we ought to be remembering those who were lost, willingly and wholeheartedly.

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A Matter of Death and Life

THE GRAND GESTURE

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Tuesday 29th October, 2013

 

Northern Broadside bring their loose adaptation of Nikolai Erdman’s The Suicide to the New Vic – the action has been translated to a vague representation of the North West of England – but do not let my use of words like ‘loose’ and ‘vague’ put you off.  Everything about this production is spot on.

The plot concerns Simeon Duff, depressed from long-term unemployment, his male pride dented because his wife is the breadwinner.  Whatever he tries (a scene in which he attempts to teach himself to play the tuba is particularly funny) comes to naught, flinging him from the mania of hope to the despair of failure.  He decides to kill himself and it is at this point that he becomes worth something to people – people who try to appropriate his suicide as a ‘grand gesture’ to further their own causes.  He is touted as a martyr for the revolution, or a martyr for the church – among other things.  His unscrupulous landlord is cashing in, offering sponsorship deals of the big event.

Angela Bain almost steals the show as Duff’s mother-in-law, with her constant appeals to the saints for assistance, her malapropisms and her physical comedy.  All the performances are heightened in a larger-than-life world.  Robert Pickavance as intellectual Victor Stark is particularly mannered (and hilarious) and other notable mentions go to Alan McMahon as the priest with a propensity for drink and off-colour poetry, and to Howard Chadwick as wheeler-dealer landlord Al Bush. Samantha Robinson brings emotional intensity as Duff’s wife  but above all the play offers leading man Michael Hugo a chance to showcase his considerable talents.  Duff is a tricky role in that we laugh at him but we are not laughing at his plight, but rather the absurdity of his situation.  Hugo pitches it perfectly, the rubber-faced reactions, the physicality of the character in all his moods – the performance is heightened but the man’s anguish seems genuine, within the context of the play.  By the end, he has become an Everyman, and his speech on the nature of Life is particularly hard-hitting and affirming.

Conrad Nelson directs with an eye for detail and timing to make the comedy as sharp as it is broad.  Deborah McAndrew’s wonderful script (so good I bought the book) is laden with double entendres and gags, but there are also plenty of literary references (to Blake and Burns, for example) that give the farcical elements some depth.  I also detected a hint of Alan Bleasdale here and there. Another strong point is the social commentary.  The play touches on the mental health of the long-term unemployed and how they are not seen as people but as statistics, mascots for whatever cause you might embrace.

With its wit, energised performances and the added bonus of some lovely singing, The Grand Gesture all makes for a grand night’s entertainment.

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Embracing the cause: Robert Pickavance and Michael Hugo


Family Firm

RUTHERFORD & SON

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Wednesday 13th March, 2013

 

Northern Broadsides is doing the rounds with this revival of Githa Sowerby’s play of 1912.  It has been edited by Blake Morrison so the dialect is accessible to a wider, modern day audience, but even so, the themes it deals with are still pertinent today – and familiar to viewers of soap operas, Dallas and even the old sit-com Brass!

Jonathan Miller directs a strong cast in this broadly naturalistic piece.  The intimacy of the New Vic’s in-the-round puts us right in the Rutherfords’ living room with this family.  There is a lengthy build-up before the patriarch appears – the characters view their hopes and deeds through the prism of Dad’s disapproval – but when the man himself appears, he exceeds our anticipations.  Barrie Rutter is in his element as the headstrong, tyrannical father, ruling the roost and crushing his children’s’ aspirations under the wheels of his industry.  What makes him compelling is his apparently reasonable nature.  He puts his case, explaining why he has treated his family and his workers in particular ways – it all seems perfectly fair and equitable to him; generous, even.  He regards relationships as business deals.  What you put in, you get out.  Because he toiled for decades to lift his family to the middle class, he expects his sons to follow in his footsteps, to pay back what he has invested in their upbringing.  The problem is raising his family from the village cottages and a life of hard work, he has enabled them to aspire to other spheres or, as in the case of his spinster daughter, cut them off from the world completely.  In the shadow of his oppression, his offspring cannot thrive.

Nicholas Shaw is very good as elder son John, a bit of a dreamer who has hit upon a new invention that will revolutionise the industry and make himself a fortune.  But he is naive in the ways of business and patents, and his dear old dad soon hits upon away to acquire the secret formula behind his son’s back.  This is pure Dallas.  Younger brother Dick is a neurotic and ineffectual curate, treated dismissively by his unholy father – a splendid turn from Andrew Grose.  Sara Poyzer excels as the cloistered daughter, frustrated by her life of idleness, who finally busts a corset to tell the old man what she thinks.  That she has been having an affair with his trusted right-hand man Martin (Richard Standing, both noble and humble at the same time) is the final straw.  She is disowned – by the end Rutherford has no children left.  It falls to his cockney sparra daughter-in-law (a very strong and nuanced performance by Catherine Kinsella) abandoned by her dreamer husband, to strike a bargain with him to ensure the upbringing of her four-month-old baby boy.  His family has gone west but in Rutherford’s eyes, they are business deals gone sour.  He is able to shrug them off and move on to the next negotiation.

Rutter is absolutely compelling, dominating the scene even when he’s not on stage.  He is supported by an excellent cast – There is a strong cameo from Wendi Peters as the aggrieved mother of a worker he has dismissed for stealing (although it did seem as if she became more inebriated as her scene went on).  Kate Anthony’s formidable as Aunt Ann, who dresses like Whistler’s Mother but is the prefect presiding over the family while her brother’s at work, issuing warnings and admonishments to keep them in line.

Jonathan Miller directs the rows and arguments with an almost orchestral ear.  Voices rise and fall; there are crescendos and silences, each as powerful as the other.  The timing of these tonal changes is impeccable as the characters negotiate the emotional transactions of the dialogue.  Light and shade are effectively handled by this maestro of theatre.

With atmospheric lighting from candles and lamps, the production creates a dim view of the gloomy life of the Rutherfords in their father’s shadow.  The final act, in the broad light of day, reveals the empty chairs at the empty table, enabling outsider Mary to speak plainly and get herself heard.

This is a powerful drama, entertaining and accessible.  By the end we realise Rutherford is not a monster but a tragic figure, blinkered to love and life by his view that commerce and work are more important than other people.

Rutherford and Sons