Tag Archives: Paul Lavers

Lacking Bite

CARMILLA

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 8th July, 2014

 

Based on a novel that predates Dracula, David Campton’s script has all the makings of a Hammer horror: the gothic 19th century setting, the pretty young girl at risk, the dashing hero… The twist is that the monster is a striking, apparently young woman who feeds off the blood of the locals, with her sights set on the pretty young girl as a long-time companion.   Horror has always used the monster to symbolise the ‘other’ in society. Here it says that sex that is not procreative, is evil, and saps the strength of those who indulge, weakening them in body and mind until they die.

Ian Dickens has assembled a fine cast for this atmospheric tale. Christopher Hogben is the dashing, resolute Captain Field and I enjoyed James Percy’s brief turn as creepy servant Ivan, clicking the heels of his magnificent boots together. Peter Amory is a gruff Colonel Smithson, a sort of Von Trapp character in a bad mood, and Paul Lavers is effective as the ostensible man of reason, Doctor Spielsberg.  Karen Ford gives solid support as the governess and Melissa Clements’s Lucy is suitably lively and engaging – until the ‘illness’ begins to take its toll.

In the title role, Michelle Morris is good as the commanding vampire, with a strident tone and a bit of Jedi mind control power in her hand. I would have liked a bit more light and shade to her or, alternatively, a little bit more camp. The production could do with a lot more camp, in fact. It’s played just a little too straight – and it’s a difficult mood to create and sustain, but all too easy to puncture. A portrait is carried on to show the likeness between Carmilla and a woman who has been dead for centuries. It looks too much like a publicity headshot rather than an oil painting of the period. The destruction of Carmilla at the end – mostly in blackout – is laughable with (SPOILER ALERT) lights up to reveal a naked skeleton lying on a tomb.

Now, if the approach had been a little more light-hearted, including the audience in the asides for example, we would forgive any clumsiness or ineffectual special effects. When Hogben comes on, in disguise as a gypsy, the show really comes back from the dead. I think the whole show should have been done with this larger-than-life gusto – we would be more willing to go along for the ride. This is the spirit, I thought, and I loved Beppo the monke

At the time when the story first appeared, vampires were brand new as a genre of popular culture. Nowadays we are all over-familiar with the lore: the mysterious marks at the side of the neck, the preventative properties of garlic… that it is nigh on impossible to scare us.

The play is therefore riddled with dramatic irony rather than suspense. Our knowledge is vastly superior to any of the characters.

Also, I would have tackled the lighting design differently. What you don’t see is always scarier than what you do. More spots and candlelight would have raised the play’s game in the scary stakes. And I would have nixed the plodding tick-tock music that covers every scene transition.

A good-looking production in terms of costumes and set, Carmilla could have been an entertaining evening of comic-horror. As it stands at the moment, it’s rather bloodless and toothless.

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Let’s Twist Again

DESIGN FOR MURDER

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 18th June, 2014

 

Donald F. East’s 1969 “murder thriller” is revived by director Ian Dickens as part of his summer season this year. The period setting is reproduced effectively by the detailed set and the Burt Bacharach tracks that cover the transitions – these are fun and light, in contrast with the treatment of the material. Dickens handles the dynamics of the scenes well (the play begins with a row between husband and wife) but the overall tone could do with leavening. The characters all have something repellent about them and elicit no sympathy whatsoever, discussing and indeed carrying out infidelity, blackmail and murder – their monstrousness could be offset by a lighter touch to bring out the dark humour of East’s script.

A bit heavy on the exposition in the early scenes, the plot zigzags from twist to turn, with the upper hand switching from character to character in an impressive and entertaining way, but again, the overwrought dialogue would be more palatable if the cast were to have more fun with it.

Paul Lavers is Clive, out of love with his second and much younger wife Moira (Carly Nickson), who at the outset is an annoying, whining, self-absorbed woman – you are soon hoping she will be the victim. Moira is having it off with Clive’s business partner Philip (Peter Amory) who is blackmailing Clive for control of their company.

Enter Bridget Lambert, purporting to be Clive’s first wife Jane, and the action really takes off. Lavers is good as sarcastic Clive and you warm to Nickson as Moira as her character gets in deeper and deeper with the shenanigans. Amory does a good turn as the gruff and vain Philip and there is strong support from Lambert as the conniving fourth wheel.  The play reveals itself to be almost as twisty-turny as something like Sleuth or Death Trap – the production just needs to lighten up and it would be a cracking black comedy.

 

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Chilling on a Summer Night

A MURDER HAS BEEN ARRANGED

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.

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