Tag Archives: Paul Nicholas

Murder Most Fine

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 3rd February, 2015

 

The Agatha Christie Theatre Company revisit this classic mystery for their current UK tour; I saw their 2008 production but I couldn’t for the life of me remember who done it. Even if I had, or if you know the story, there is much to enjoy here. This kind of old-fashioned, solid entertainment provides opportunities to see some of our finest character actors doing their thing.

A group of strangers gathers in a large house on a remote island. They have been invited there under false pretences. Early moments are like the first night in the Big Brother house as they introduce themselves to each other (and to us) before the tension begins its slow burn, and they start popping their clogs. The deaths seem to be related to an old rhyme that in this politically correct age is now about ten little ‘soldier boys’ – everything else is in keeping with the 1930s setting.   The art deco architecture of Simon Scullion’s set is remarkable.

Verity Rushworth is the ingénue, looking fab in a range of Roberto Surace’s evocative costumes. Rushworth’s lightness has a darker edge; she pitches it perfectly. Indeed as each character’s back story comes to light, we see beneath the veneer of civility. Paul Nicholas is suitably pompous as a high court judge, contrasting with Judith Rae as the housekeeper, with her down-to-earth nature and touches of humour. Frazer Hines is an unpretentious butler (making him prime suspect for a while, of course!), while Ben Nealon is the dashing Philip Lombard, all scorn and flash heroics. It is an absolute treat to see Susan Penhaligon as curmudgeonly old biddy Miss Brent – someone needs to employ her as Lady Bracknell at once; forget David Suchet! These are character types you find in Christie’s plays but this experienced and skilful cast humanise them beyond the requirements of the plot. Upper Class Twit Anthony Marston is made bearable by Paul Hassall’s portrayal. Eric Carte is rather sweet as General Mackenzie, resigned to his doom, and Mark Curry makes an impression as the somewhat neurotic Doctor Armstrong.

Director Joe Harmston handles the material with assurance; he knows exactly how to pace this type of thing, not rushing Christie’s sometimes ponderous script, and timing shocks and surprises with expertise. The result is a comfortably intriguing night at the theatre. The company takes us for a bit of a thrill ride, slowly but surely drawing us in as the plot reaches its conclusion.

Great stuff.

and then

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Flat Pop

The latest jukebox musical on the block is a real nostalgia fest for fans of 1970s pop.  It strings together songs by hitmakers Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman who wrote classic tracks for the likes of Suzi Quatro, Mud, and The Sweet.  With shows of this type you expect the links to songs to be tenuous at best and the plot to be contrived in such a way as to maximise the potential to include as much of the back catalogue as possible.  The problem with this particular piece of inconsequential fluff is it takes itself too seriously.  An injection of camp would make it more engaging.

The story, such as it is, tells of busker Mickey Block (‘my friends call me Buster’) who, fleeing from creditors, takes refuge in a mysterious museum of rock and roll, run by Crazy Max (Paul Nicholas in a cowboy hat).  Max sends Mickey back in time to 1972 in order to perform ‘two good deeds’, via a record booth that doubles as a portal through the fourth dimension.  Of course.  In 1972, Mickey falls in love – the implications and potential consequences of time-travel do not feature.  Apart from a stray reference to Facebook and Twitter, Mickey fits right in.  No one bats an eyelid.

Mickey (Aaron Sidwell) is a likeable sort who plays a mean guitar but the show really lifts when Carol (Suzanne Shaw) belts out Devilgate Drive.  Shaw’s voice is perfectly suited to this type of music; all of her numbers are a treat but for me the musical highlight is when Jodie (Micha Richardson) performs Better Be Good To Me with depth and emotional truth.

David Soames’s script is lazy.  When Alice (Louise English) tells neighbour Paul Nicholas (sans cowboy hat) that she is moving house because she cannot afford the mortgage, he launches into a rather dour rendition of Living Next Door To Alice, which includes the line “I don’t know why she’s leaving” as part of the refrain.  (Weren’t you listening, man? I would have shouted but I was too busy singing the Chubby Brown version: Alice?  Who the f— is Alice?)  Nicholas’s voice is deeper and richer than it was during his own pop heyday but, like the show as a whole (which he also directs) he needs to lighten up a bit.

The mostly youthful cast is a talented bunch who perform some excellent Flick Colby-style choreography by Rebecca Howell.  The Young Generation and Pan’s People spring to mind.  Too often the plot comes to a halt for yet another number – unlike ‘straight’ musicals (if I can call them that!) where songs develop story or reveal character, here the songs and the plot get in the way of each other.  There’s a completely unnecessary version of Lonely This Christmas played on a shoehorn.

Blockbuster is just not as much fun as it ought to be.  This pop musical has too few bubbles to keep it fizzy.

blockbuster


Beavering Away

KEELER
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 16th November, 2011

This story has been told before and more effectively in the film Scandal. Sadly this play brings nothing new to the table other than a generous serving of awkward dialogue and a trio of ladies in ostrich feathers and pasties (by which I mean nipple covers, not baked goods from Greggs’s). It was like Showgirls but in Walford. These three trooped out to cover scene transitions, adding to the seediness and voyeuristic nature of the material.

Alice Coulthard, formerly of Emmerdale, plays celebrated horizontalist Christine Keeler in this biography-cum-drama/documentary. It’s not her fault. The story barely allows us to sympathise with the character. There is one moment when she tries to get her flat-mate and pimp (Paul Nicholas) to help her report a sexual assault, where she is portrayed as a victim, exploited by men corrupt with power, but on the whole she is a willing participant in the sordid comings and goings (nudge wink) and for the most part, life’s a party. The more interesting story of her friend and erstwhile companion, Mandy Rice Davies is only briefly touched on.
The afore-mentioned flat-mate and pimp, Stephen Ward, was a right narsty barstard and pompous arse, judging by his depiction here by Paul Nicholas. I’ve gone off him. His delivery is too heavy-handed and fruity-voiced, more suited to historical romps where he can be the dastardly squire. So I neither warmed to the character nor the performance. When, at the end, he takes an overdose and dies, and no one turns up to see him cremated, I didn’t even bother to shrug. He’d been a narsty barstard and nothing else, so I didn’t give a monkey’s.

The main problem is the script. Too many “darlings” and “my dears” for my liking. Also, lines like, “Was he like an awkward teenager or a rampant beast? A beast, I bet.” Nicholas chewed these words and spat them out like they were gobbets of tobacco. Well before the interval, we were waist deep in smarm.

The second act was marginally better than the first, because this dispensed with the showgirls and focussed on Ward’s trial. Here more historical and authentic details came to the fore. That Keeler sold her story to the News Of The World for £23,000 is, nowadays, nothing remarkable. Perhaps she was the first to make a name for herself by selling her story. These days, every other talentless whore is doing it. It’s a well-worn career path at which a girl can succeed if she puts her back into it.

Theatrically, the most effective moment for me was a knife-fight depicted in shadow play. The rest was sub-EastEnders meets tepid spy thriller. At the beginning, Keeler’s narration tells us most people only know her because of the famous picture of her naked on a chair. The play closes with Coulthard enacting that very pose for us, like a tableau in a burlesque show. We are told what happened to the other major players in the story, but nothing of Keeler’s life since that picture was taken. Frankly, I wasn’t interested. I didn’t even feel like I should have been. For me, that was the scandal.