Tag Archives: Oliver Hume

Telling Tales

GRIMMS FAERY TALES

Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday 22nd December, 2018

 

The festive offering at the Blue Orange this year is a trilogy of tales, familiar stories with a twist.  Performed by a talented ensemble of five, the stories comprise an entertaining anthology, suitable for all the family.

First up is Rapunzel, directed by Oliver Hume, setting the tone and the style.  The actors share narration and adopt a larger-than-life style that’s not quite panto, but not far off.  For the most part, they play it straight, even though the script is witty.  Hume’s staging is deceptively simple; there’s some sophisticated storytelling going on here.

Simon Ravenhill’s Little Red Riding Hood (directed by Marcus Fernando) is a more overtly comic, almost cartoonish affair, with heightened physicality and even some chasing around with Yaketty Sax blaring out!

Finally, we have Mark Webster’s Rumpelstiltskin, a return to the style of the opener but with added atmosphere: cast members remain onstage, supporting the main action – like the spinning of the straw, for example.

The stories are performed by a fine quintet.  James Nicholas is wonderful as a high-camp Witch, a rather butch Granny, and a splendidly creepy Rumpelstiltskin.  Adam Simmons is appealing as Rapunzel’s Prince, perfectly arrogant as the avaricious, gold-hungry Prince, and charming as a Narrator.  Alan Nikitas delivers long-suffering peasants and fathers, but really shines as an exasperated Big Bad Wolf that is a real treat to see.  Rebecca Ross supports as mothers, guards, and is especially good fun as a felonious Goldilocks, menacing all who cross her path.  Playing the heroines in all three stories, Stephanie Grey delights as the imprisoned princess, the put-upon Gretchen, and especially as a garrulous Little Red Riding Hood.

The action is slick, engaging and funny.  The adaptations are clever enough to amuse the adults, and the lure of the original stories still has the power to enchant and enthral the children.

Perfectly charming and thoroughly enjoyable, this is a production that will hold you in its spell, and it’s all rounded off with a sweetly sung rendition of Auld Lang Syne.  Glorious rather than grim.

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Alex Nikitas and James Nicholas squaring up as the Wolf and Granny

 

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Drama Therapy

HAMLET

Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham, Friday 23rd February, 2018

 

Director Oliver Hume’s production strips Shakespeare’s four-hours-plus great work right down to two fifty-minute chunks.  With much of the text excised, what we are left with comes across as Hamlet’s Greatest Hits.  All the main plot points are intact along with the majority of the iconic speeches and for the most part, the cast of five handle the blank verse excellently, so it sounds and feels like Shakespeare with modern voices.

Hume sets his version in a doctor’s office, complete with portable screens (the arras!) and a full skeleton (doubling as the Ghost of Hamlet’s father and poor Yorick).  With Ashleigh Aston leading the cast as Hamlet, a psychiatric patient, the rest are dressed as doctors, nurses, orderlies and what-have-you, and double, sometimes treble, as other roles.  The action of the tragedy unfolds, leading to its fatal resolution, and while I enjoy particular scenes very much (Ophelia’s mad scene, To Be or Not To Be, the ‘fencing’ contest, Hamlet visiting his mother’s chamber) and I can’t help wondering where it’s going.  At some points, the setting is little more than a backdrop; at others, it works very well… and I question if this is all in Hamlet’s mind, why are we getting scenes in which he doesn’t appear?

Ashleigh Aston makes for a superb Hamlet, with a sensitive, impassioned portrayal, convincingly unhinged when the need arises.  She is supported by a strong quartet, among whom Bryony Tebbutt’s Gertrude stands out, Hayley Grainger’s Ophelia, and Alex Nikitas’s imperious Claudius.  Edward Loboda makes an impression as Polonius and a hot-blooded Laertes.

Three cast members share the role of Horatio, donning a brown hat so we know it’s him and it is this device that is the key to the entire concept.  Hume pulls his ideas together right at the end when, (SPOILER!!) after all the deaths, the medical staff resurrect themselves and wake their patient, handing her the brown hat.  It has all been a dramatic reconstruction to help Horatio get through the trauma of what he experienced at Elsinore…

Bravo!  Suddenly it all becomes clear and it’s a real ‘Ahh!’ moment.

Truncated it may be, but definitely not lacking in drama and some superb handling of Shakespeare, breathing fresh life into the well-worn lines and coming at the play from a new angle.  This play’s the thing!

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Trivial Pursuit

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

Blue Orange Theatre, Friday 29th April, 2016

 

Oscar Wilde’s comic masterpiece is a challenge for any group.  The wordy, witty epigrams in which the characters converse take a certain kind of delivery, to make them sound fresh and clear with their ‘punchlines’ sharp.  Does this new production at the Blue Orange deliver?

Yes.

From the off, Harvey Bassett’s exuberant Algernon amuses, in his powder blue suit and his upper-class-twit accent – it’s not overdone, thank goodness, and works brilliantly.  Bassett manages to get his lines out through a mouthful of cucumber sandwich.  It takes a while longer to warm to Benjamin Darlington’s Jack – a tightly wound characterisation, he could blow a fuse at any second – but he maintains his energy throughout and delivers a comically expressive performance of a man a hair’s breadth from a panic attack.

Karen Whyte’s Gwendolen is also a rounded and sustained comic creation: a minx, using her height to show she can be as imperious as her mother.  There are some exquisite moments with Megan Strachan’s perky Cicely that are superbly timed.  As the formidable Lady Bracknell, Elizabeth Bracknell looks and sounds the part but she needs to take care that lines, some of them rather convoluted, don’t fizzle out and lose their impact.

As the dotty Miss Prism, Jennifer Rigby plays it broad – and gets a lot of laughs – but for me it’s the hard-working and versatile Neville Cann who both takes and, as Merriman, brings the cake!  Appearing as two butlers (his Lane is a lugubrious delight) and as the cleric Dr Chasuble (a set-up involving some quick changes) he gives a model lesson in how to deliver Wilde.

Ian Craddock’s simple set design is adaptable to suggest the locations of each of the three acts but it’s Simon Ravenhill’s costumes that evoke the end of the 19th century.  On the whole, director Oliver Hume paces the action well, and there are some hilarious moments of comic business, touches of physical comedy to offset the verbal fireworks, although I feel some of the ideas are a little too large for the Blue Orange’s intimate space: the collective gasps at the revelations in the final act, for example – I am nit-picking perhaps; this is a really enjoyable evening’s entertainment, with Wilde’s wit effervescently delivered by a charming company.

A frothy confection of a play that tickles the ribs throughout, with many laugh-out-loud moments, The Importance of Being Earnest remains one of the funniest plays ever written, a celebration of the trivialities of life, and is satisfyingly presented in this small-scale and effective production.

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Earnest bunch: The Cast