Tag Archives: Peter Rowe

Much Fun About Plenty

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

Stafford Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford Castle, Thursday 2nd July, 2015

 

Shakespeare’s finest and funniest rom-com comes to Stafford Castle in this new production directed by Peter Rowe. While the cast sings music hall songs, we find the set and the setting rather striking. Dawn Allsopp’s elegant stage, with trimmed lawns and a classical pavilion is bedecked with union flag bunting – to celebrate the return of the troops from the War. Behind and above this is the ruined castle, adding to the sense of England gone by (even though the play is nominally set in Messina).

Any Much Ado is only as good as its Beatrice and Benedick. In this one they are a mature couple: imagine Caroline Quentin and Boris Karloff – that’s a bit harsh, perhaps. Philip Bretherton’s Benedick is not so much a silver as an arctic fox and a bit stern, while Sherry Baines’s Beatrice is a little bit matronly. The pair are none the less witty for all this and it makes sense. They have spent their lives avoiding and railing against marriage and only come to find each other late in life: it adds poignancy to Beatrice’s lines about everyone else getting married but her and shows that love can keep us all young at heart.  You can’t help but like them.

Tom Palmer is a tall and dashing Claudio, capricious but not without conviction. He is especially good in the wedding scene and so is his intended Hero (Catherine Lamb). In fact, it’s the best scene of the night: Peter Rowe delivers the surprise and the tension. He could make more of the comic eavesdropping scenes, nicely played though they are. Edward York’s Leonato is delightfully hopeless at deception and yet heart-breaking when denouncing his daughter. Jake Ferretti’s Don Pedro is full of fun, in marked contrast to his whining petulant brother, Don John – the villain of the piece (Jon Trenchard).

Phylip Harries is a Welsh Dogberry and a very funny one. The scene in which he instructs the watchmen is glorious nonsense, a forerunner of the ‘awkward squad’ we still see in pantomimes today – and it’s gratifying to hear Shakespeare’s lines still getting laughs. They could do with another one or two men though, to flesh things out.

James Hague sings sweetly as Balthasar in a lovely version of Sigh No More, Ladies. As Don John’s henchmen, Dan de Cruz’s cheeky chappie Borachio makes a strong contrast with Charlie Tighe’s Conrade.

This is a satisfying production, not exactly innovative (but then, why tinker just for the sake of it?) and offers much to enjoy.

much ado

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Hard Pressed

FEED THE BEAST

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 21st April, 2015

 

Imagine if the Prime Minister was a man of principle.  Imagine if he actually felt driven to serve the country.  Imagine if he took a stand against the press – rather than ‘getting into bed’ or ‘going horse-riding’ with them.

Such a PM is Michael Goodlad, who enters into office midway through a parliament.  Our initial reaction is not favourable.  He is an abrasive, volatile sort and he doesn’t care if people don’t like him.  He has a job to do.  As Goodlad, Gerald Kyd wins us over by force of his personality.  We want him to succeed.  By the interval, I am ready to vote for him and his raft of social reforms.  Kyd gives us a superb portrait of a man in high office whose ideals are tested and eroded.

Goodlad’s approach is to starve the press (aka the beast of the title) but when personal stories concerning his wife and his troubled teenaged daughter are about to surface, he learns how to manipulate what stories get leaked and when – mainly through the machinations of blunt press officer Scott, who is a nasty piece of work but not without an ethical code of his own.  Shaun Mason is impressively strong as this unpleasant but pragmatic character and there are some electrifying outbursts of passion from both men.

Indeed there is a lot of passion and conviction pouring off the stage – the excellent Kacey Ainsworth as Sally, for example.  The characters are not merely mouthpieces for conflicting points of view.  Steve Thompson’s script is not only timely but intelligent and provocative, and also rather funny.  There is something televisual in the writing too, in the way that scenes end abruptly.  Transitions are swift and slick, covered by loud, insistent music and flashing images that remind me of title sequences to current affairs programmes.  And the play does feel very current even though it boils down to an old-fashioned tragedy about an important man brought down by a flaw in his character.  Once Goodlad chips away at his principles there is only one way to go.  In this case it’s toward the exit rather than a messy death!

Peter Rowe directs an effective ensemble although some of the doubling of roles could be more clearly differentiated; there are times when I’m not sure which character an actor has come on as.

All in all though it’s an engaging evening, a serious comedy that examines the relationship between politics and the media, and if you come away dissatisfied it’s not with the play, it’s with the real world.  Why does the press (i.e. one foreign billionaire) have so much power to shape policy?  And why, oh why, is there no one of the calibre of Michael Goodlad standing in the upcoming general election?

feed the beast

Shaun Mason and Gerald Kyd (Photo: Patrick Baldwin)


Dream a Little Dream

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

Stafford Festival Shakespeare, Stafford Castle, Thursday 11th July, 2013

Using the remains of the castle as a backdrop, the stage nestles into the bailey’s slopes and dips with a simple evocation of the forest and the palace of Theseus.  Elegant pagodas are dotted around, the largest of which serves as a bandstand; as the audience arrive, the Mechanicals treat us to a light-hearted concert of Gilbert & Sullivan numbers.  The setting is Edwardian and a little bit colonial but director Peter Rowe doesn’t labour the point.  By keeping things simple, he allows the comedy of Shakespeare’s script to hold centrestage, proving you don’t need gimmicks and ‘clever’ reinterpretations to make a production accessible and effective.

Quite simply, it’s one of the funniest Dreams I’ve seen in a long while.

The ensemble of four young lovers is intensely presented.  Hilarious when they’re under the influence of Oberon’s love-juice (sic) and rowdy when their passions are aroused, this quartet demonstrate physical comedy that belies the elegance and formality of their period costumes.  Jennifer Greenwood is a fireball of a Hermia, contrasting with Georgina White’s neurotic Helena.  Eamonn O’Dwyer is a poised, slightly stuffy Demetrius but it is Craig Fletcher’s dashing Lysander who gets most of the laughs.

As you’d expect, the Mechanicals are delightful.  An affable bunch directed by Phylip Harries’s Quince, they prepare their production of Pyramus & Thisbe in the woods. Interestingly and very effectively, their version is a cod operetta, continuing the G & S motif.  It works brilliantly, thanks to Greg Palmer’s musical direction and composition.  James Haggie’s Thisbe is a scream, Paul Kissaun’s Lion is adorable (such a contrast between this actor’s Snug the joiner and his Egeus!) but of course, it is Bottom the weaver who dominates.  Eric Potts shows himself to be a wonderful Shakespearean clown, stepping outside his customary role as pantomime dame.  His Bottom is rounded, cheeky and pert.

Simone James is aloof as Hippolyta and graceful as Titania, followed by a troupe of fairies; the otherworldly aspects of the production are simply and stylishly achieved; the overall effect is magical.  Robert Fitch’s Oberon is more commanding than his Theseus, but then the fairy king has mischief to be done.  His servant Puck, for me, steals the show.  Lanre Malaolu gives an excitable Puck, a ball of pent-up energy, a nifty little mover with some fine comic playing.

A dream of a Dream, then.  Already I’m looking forward to hearing about next year’s production.

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Eric Potts and Phylip Harries indulge in some pre-show operetta