Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Monday 5th February, 2019
This production is the world premiere of a brand-new farce, written by Jack Milner and Mark Stevenson. Certainly, many of the key ingredients are here: heightened situations, people talking at cross-purposes – the protagonist even gets his trousers off in the first couple of minutes! And yes, it is very funny but, as it turns out, this farce is more than frothy entertainment. Like the titular dish, there are meaty bits to chew on…
Nick Hancock is tightly wound insurance consultant Seymour Norse, preparing for a video call with Gillian Bevan’s formidable CEO, Virginia Whale. Having a character on-screen brings this conventional format up-to-date, and there is a lot of mileage in what Virginia is permitted to see and hear, thanks to the ministrations of hapless, arthritic burglar, Marvin Haynes (Paul Bradley on excellent form). Add to the mix, Carolyn Backhouse as Gloria, Seymour’s histrionic actress wife, and The Bill’s Eric Richard as menacing underworld boss, Alan, and the stage is set for a fraught dinner party, full of misunderstandings and cracking one-liners – all while trying not to stress out Terry, the burglar’s pet octopus. Hancock and Bradley make a fine duo, and Backhouse is a scream as the egotistical Gloria. Eric Richard has a strong presence, on the other side of the law for once, and Gillian Bevan is both glamorous and haughty. As the plot extends its tentacles, pulling everyone into a scam that could be worth billions, it’s every person for themselves.
It’s in the second act that the show’s message comes to the fore. Milner and Stevenson use a dated, conventional format to speak to us of the present. “What the world needs now is brains not bullets” is just the start of it. Parallels are drawn between insurance CEO Virginia and organised crime boss Alan: capitalism is criminal activity, or certainly immoral and unethical, legal though it may be. Seymour finally gets to deliver his presentation, a plea for the rehabilitation of the financial sector the world so desperately needs.
Played with energy and conviction by all concerned, this is a hugely enjoyable piece of work, and you get the feeling that things are tightening up as the run gets into its stride. Pacing is everything in farcical situations and director Joe Harmston clearly has an eye for comic business and another for building tension.
Like Terry the octopus, this show has legs…
NIck Hancock and Paul Bradley in one of the show’s calmer moments! (Photo: Robert Day)
1 Comment | tags: Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Carolyn Backhouse, Eric Richard, Gillian Bevan, Jack Milner, Joe Harmston, Mark Stevenson, Nick Hancock, Octopus Soup!, Paul Bradley, review | posted in Review, Theatre Review
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 7th November, 2017
Ira Levin’s classic thriller is doing the rounds in this effective new production, featuring two escapees from Albert Square, namely Paul Bradley and Jessie Wallace as husband and wife. He is a playwright who hasn’t had a hit for a few years; she is the supportive wife with a weak constitution, who has been funding their life together in their smart little barn conversion in the woods… Along comes bright young thing Sam Phillips with an idea for a new play, and the scene is set for double-crosses, shocks and surprises.
Levin’s script is clever, laced with sarcastic wit and tell-tale details – if you know what to look for. I’ve seen the play before so I knew all its secrets going in but director Adam Penford manages the twists and turns, changes of pace, the violence and the laughs with skill, providing a few jump scares along the way.
Paul Bradley dominates as the desperate and overbearing Sidney, while Jessie Wallace, unusually dowdy in her frumpy beige cardigan and not a hint of leopard print for miles, gives a restrained performance as Myra with the dodgy ticker. Sam Phillips’s Clifford brings energy and good looks, and there is a wild comic cameo from Beverley Klein as visiting Swedish psychic, Helga ten Dorp. Julien Ball completes the quintet as Sidney’s smooth attorney, Porter Milgrim.
Morgan Large’s attractive, rustic set bedecked with a range of vicious weapons gives the action its arena but at times Ben and Max Ringham’s music is a little heavy-handed. Moments of violence are underscored for added atmosphere, heightening the emotion but lessening its realism.
It’s a play that deconstructs itself as it plays out. The characters discuss the elements of a stage thriller before and after we see them enacted within the plot, and it is this knowingness that makes Levin’s piece a classic of the genre. A similar approach was adopted much later by horror film Scream. But like all thrillers, it’s about not-particularly-nice people doing despicable things for (usually) financial gain. Unusually, there is no detective to wheedle out the truth – a different comeuppance awaits these plotters…
This is a solid production, well played and engaging. A darkly delicious way to spend an evening.
Paul Bradley and Jessie Wallace host a cardigan festival
Leave a comment | tags: Adam Penford, Ben and Max Ringham, Beverley Klein, Deathtrap, Ira Levine, Jessie Wallace, Julien Ball, Morgan Large, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Paul Bradley, review, Sam Phillips, thriller | posted in Theatre Review