Tag Archives: Peter Amory

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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Old Trouble

THE TROUBLE WITH OLD LOVERS

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 9th July, 2013

 

Tom (Peter Amory) is shopping at home for garden furniture when wife Alice (Nicola Bryant) comes home from a wedding she attended without him.   She has unwittingly invited a couple over for dinner the following evening and, to make matters worse, the couple are both former lovers of Tom and Alice… And to make matters even worse, the couple announce they are bringing along a fifth wheel, a woman they met at the wedding.

Cue some middle class panic.  Wouldn’t you know it: the woman turns out to be Tom’s mistress from three years ago?!

In the hands of a master of exposing middle class absurdity and pricking middle class aspirations and preoccupations like Alan Ayckbourn, this play could have got off to a cracking start, but unfortunately Angela Huth’s script begins slowly and doesn’t get out of first gear for far too long.  We are given two lengthy and verbose scenes before the dinner guests even arrive.  The dinner party happens off-stage, while we’re having an interval, and over coffee, the play changes tack as the truth comes out.  Tom’s former mistress, Mary (Shona Lindsay) pours scorn on them all, a glamorous spectre at the feast, shit-stirring in a rather condescending manner.  Oddly, Tom and Alice seem to take it on the chin and it falls to insufferable buffoon (what did Alice used to see in him?) Edward (Simon Linnell) to speak out and assert his point of view.  Finally, Alice speaks her mind before sending Mistress Mary on her way – Nicola Bryant caps off a very likeable performance with this dignified rebuttal of Mary’s claims.  In fact, Bryant gets all the funniest lines and there are not enough of them.  Shona Lindsay cuts an elegant figure as a woman in red and I felt sorry for Joanna Waters’s Laura, the dowdiest of the female characters who doesn’t get to glam up for dinner.  Linnell’s characterisation seems to come from a much earlier era and somewhat out of place with the others, and Peter Amory makes a bluff old barrister, complacent and verging on curmudgeonly but it is difficult to see the passionate figure Mary claims he is.

The trouble with The Trouble With Old Lovers, old love, is the pace.  It needs to get going far sooner – director Ian Dickens could cut whole swathes of the first two scenes; it would be more effective if we were unaware of Tom’s recent affair so Mary’s arrival would be more of a shock for us as well as for him.  There needs to be more contrast in tone.  The comedy needs to be emphasised so that the change to drama is more defined.  If the first act is sub-Ayckbourn, the second is sub-Ibsen.  Everything is suddenly dripping with significance and heavy-handed symbolism (literally heavy-handed: Tom breaks Alice’s spectacles).  At the end, Alice is the only one I care about – if the first act had been better structured, I might have taken to some of the others as well.

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Dead Boring

HAUNTED
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 25th July, 2012


Ron Aldridge’s new play deviates, but not very far, from his usual output. There is the middle-class setting you would expect and a bunch of well-spoken middle-class characters, and a humorous (largely sarcastic) tinge to the dialogue, but the aim of the show is something different. This is a supernatural psychological thriller. Or something. I don’t know.

It is so uneven in tone you can’t tell what it’s supposed to be. You quickly discover you don’t care.

It begins in the hideous lavender bedroom of the protagonist’s mistress. He (Peter Amory) is on the phone to her – he has been cleared of all suspicion of murder and is in the mood to celebrate. As he makes lovey-dovey sounds on the phone, a woman in black (hah!) shows up, making obvious signs of distaste at every sweet nothing she overhears. This is his wife (Joanne Heywood) or rather his ex-wife or rather (and you work this out in seconds flat) his late wife. She is a ghost on a campaign of nagging, cajoling and even seducing the truth out of him. That she is tangible and very obviously a physical presence is glossed over by some nonsense.

The mistress (Nicola Weeks) comes home and wants to have her way with the confused and distracted Amory. Meanwhile he is repeatedly grabbed by the goolies by the ghoul, who mocks him for his inability to perform. The ‘adult’ nature of the scene is just embarrassing. Imagine Fifty Shades of Grey enacted by the parish council.

The first act closes with the surprise arrival of a second ghost (Nick Ricketts) looking like Timothy Claypole – if he had been an accountant or a supply teacher rather than a court jester – entering through the bed – a trick seen before in Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein. Yawn.

This is the ghost of the girlfriend’s brother. It is a spirited performance by Ricketts but he has to chew through great swathes of exposition, describing the kind of afterlife that is rife with management-speak and pop psychology bullshit. The ghosts have come back to help the murderer process his crimes – this is a twist on the usual trope of ghost stories where it is the revenant that has unfinished business. Trouble is, the new age, pseudo professional manner of the ghost denies him any chance of instilling fear or eliciting pity.

Through a series of regressions, he forces Amory to relive key scenes from the past. He mimes pulling off a doll’s head. Because he got away with this terrible act, the ghost reasons, he was prompted to move on to do it again. We see Amory tangle with Ricketts in a cliff top quarrel (on the bed) resulting in the death of Ricketts. Meanwhile, the dead wife has found she can sort of communicate with the mistress. If she says Bloody Hell, then the mistress says Bloody Hell.

It really is a tortuous load of old tripe, weighed down by its own bollocks. Repeated mention of ‘contradictory impulse syndrome’, ‘bringing information forward’ and the ‘essence of knowledge’ sent shudders down my spine, strangling any chance this production has of creating atmosphere. As an examination of the psychological effects of murder on the murderer, it seems trite and obvious. How I longed for Banquo’s Ghost or indeed any scene from Macbeth, Shakespeare’s exploration of the same theme without recourse to buzz words and jargon.

The cast keep it going earnestly enough but their belief in the convoluted rubbish doesn’t transmit to the audience. None of the revelations surprises. None of the characters is sympathetic enough to make you give a fig about the unsurprising outcome.

A real disappointment – when done properly, scary plays work better than scary films.


Over and Out

THE FINAL TEST
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 17th July, 2012

Chris Paling’s new comedy plants us firmly in Ayckbourn territory with the action split between the kitchen and garden of a suburban semi. It begins with Peter (Colin Baker) apparently dozing on a garden chair. He is listening to a radio broadcast of his beloved cricket and is clearly in his element. It takes him quite some time to become aware that his wife (Karen Ford) has packed up all the furniture and sold the house out from behind him. She has drawn stumps and is about to leave him to begin her new life with a lover she found on the internet, skinny-dipping at Bexhill-on-Sea.

This is the run-up to the main action of the play; when the housebuyers move in, they are dismayed to find Peter hasn’t left. He’s still in the garden, listening to the seemingly interminable cricket. The man (Peter Amory off of Emmerdale) takes a shine to his surprise squatter. The two men bond over the cricket and share sneaky cups of tea when the wife’s out. The wife herself (Nicola Weeks), a shrew in anybody’s book, is keen to get rid. She summons a policeman (Michael Garland) who, rather than evicting the unwelcome guest, ends up demonstrating ballroom dancing. It’s the silliest moment, the most contrived circumstance, in this otherwise grounded comedy.

Colin Baker’s delivery manages to make the bewildered and infuriating Peter both affable and tiresome. You can understand his wife’s frustration. He is adept at veering off at tangents, hijacking conversations with whimsical extrapolation, like a commentator who waxes lyrical about the birds and the clouds rather than focussing on the pitch. He spends most of the play in his wicker chair but at times reveals glimpses of the heart of the man. It turns out he’s not as selfish and inconsiderate as he at first appears. You can’t help liking him and his assertiveness at the very end, knocking his scheming wife for six, brings a satisfactory close of play.

Peter Amory adopts a gruffer accent than usual, in sharp contrast to his wife’s snooty airs and graces – she makes Penelope Keith’s Margot seem like a fishwife. They play out their marital strife, brought to a head by the interloper in the garden; he is the catalyst that helps them resolve their issues after ten years of discord. I wondered how they’d lasted that long.

It’s all rather watchable, amusing rather than having you in creases but, as with a cricket match, there are slow periods where you’re willing the action to perk up a bit. As a play about marriage it offers nothing new: communication is key, apparently. There is darkness and pain in these characters’ lives but you can’t help feeling that Ayckbourn would have handled these better and with greater theatrical flair.