Tag Archives: Raymond Coulthard

Terrible with Names


The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 31st January, 2017


Adapted from the hit French play by Matthieu Delaporte and Alexandre de la Patelliere, this is a scathing comedy based on a staple of middle-class theatre: the dinner party.  Husband and wife Peter and Elizabeth are expecting Elizabeth’s brother, Vincent and his pregnant partner Anna to share a Moroccan buffet.  Completing the party is Elizabeth’s best friend, Carl, a camp trombonist.  With Vincent as a narrator, supplying both prologue and epilogue, our views of the others are very much coloured by his acidic disdain, and the scene is set for a banterful evening during which characters say the kinds of things that only close friends and siblings can say to each other behind closed doors.  We very much enjoy the barbs and pot shots, as well as the savaging of middle-class pretensions (double-barrelled surnames as a sop to equality, ridiculous forenames – Peter and Elizabeth’s offspring are saddled with ‘Gooseberry’ and ‘Apollinaire’!)

It all kicks off when Vincent (Nigel Harmon) announces his unborn son will be named Adolf.  Cue an explosive discourse about morality and freedom of expression.  Here the play touches on many of the same points as comedian Richard Herring’s show ‘Hitler Moustache’ – but this argument is only for starters.  Other revelations are to come that rock the quintet to the core.

Harmon is in excellent form as the roguish Vincent, sadistically winding people up.  Jamie Glover’s Peter, adopting the moral high ground, gets a lot of stick, as does Carl (Raymond Coulthard).  Olivia Poulet is classy as the pregnant Anna, while Sarah Hadland out-middle classes the lot with her menu and preoccupations.  Hadland delivers the show-stopping speech of the night, when Elizabeth finally blows her top, in a masterly display of temper-loss.

Each member of this tight ensemble gets their moments to shine, but it is the embittered scenes of Vincent and Peter at loggerheads that carry the biggest frissons.  Director and adaptor Jeremy Sams handles the crescendos of the arguments and the conversational pace of the discussions so that it feels we are eavesdropping on the neighbours.  We enjoy being mocked, we trendy lefties, and pride ourselves on being big enough to take it – and I’ve just made myself sick!  These people are like us, the audience, the play admonishes, and we must not let our middle-class sensibilities get in the way of what is truly important: those close relationships that are both fragile and resilient at the same time.

In the same vein as Yasmin Reza’s God of Carnage, this play delivers an endless stream of laughter through a prism of sharp social satire, expertly performed by a top-notch cast of comedic actors.


Jamie Glover, Raymond Coulthard and Nigel Harman (Photo: Robert Day)

Shakespeare’s Sister

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 29th February, 2012

Men are bastards, aren’t they? And religious men are even worse. Helen Edmundson’s new play upholds this view – in all fairness, some of the female characters don’t come out of things smelling of roses either.

The play tells the story of real life nun, Sister Juana, who lived in Mexico in the 17th Century. This was her first mistake. Ahead of her time and out of place, she was never going to sit comfortably with the establishment. As a bespoke poet and playwright, she becomes the darling of the court, thanks to the blind eye of her remarkably lenient holy order, until the investiture of a bigoted new archbishop leads to a clamp down on such lapses and a tightening up of the rules. And so the backlash against Sister Juana begins and eventually she loses everything and dies of the plague.

Religion is an instrument of power – of male power – and of course, a brainy, insightful and witty nun presents a threat to the established order (in more than one sense of the word). She becomes a tool in the machinations of slimy and seductive bishop Santa Cruz (the eminently watchable Raymond Coulthard, playing a Machiavellian version of his Duke in the current Measure For Measure).

Catherine McCormack portrays the decline of Sister Juana from the confident, slightly superior young nun (imagine Julie Andrews’s Maria without the clumsiness) to the broken, betrayed woman she becomes with an assurance that gives way to anguish. It is a powerful performance. Her scenes with Coulthard are the highlight of this often intense production.

I say “often intense” because the thing is somewhat too long. It overran its advertised two hours and forty five minutes by quarter of an hour. Director Nancy Meckler could do a spot of trimming or at least pick up the pace in certain scenes.

The writing has a Shakespearean feel to it without resorting to thees, thous and verilys. Edmundson gives the play a historical air by capturing the cadence of Shakespeare. Bishop Santa Cruz even gets a couple of soliloquies in which his secret desires and, later, his villainy are revealed. Themes of church and state, male and female, freedom of expression are all argued out intelligently and eloquently, and the issues are refreshingly not presented in a black-and-white fashion. Whatever side of the fence you sit on, you can see the point the opposition is making. The archbishop (a brooding Stephen Boxer) is a little hard to take though. He’s a grumpy old bigot who wears a hair shirt and is into the bonkers practice of self-flagellation. He can’t even bring himself to look at women. He removes his spectacles lest his sight be tainted by any female in his path. I suppose you can get away with such behaviour if it is done in God’s name. Religion has been – and still can be – a form of female oppression. Before she dies, off-stage, Juana writes one last document to be waved in the air by triumphant comic slave Juanita (Dona Croll). “She has written my freedom!” Juanita cries out in celebration, as though speaking for all women. A little over-optimistic there, love. Whatever her accomplishments, Sister Juana hardly turned the tide.

A Measure to Treasure

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 8th December, 2011

In Comedy there are two types of people: those who try to enjoy themselves and those who try to stop them. Roxana Silbert’s production at the RSC demonstrates this division but, unlike other stagings I have seen, this one brings the comedy to the fore. Much has been said and written about Shakespeare’s problem plays, but I was heartened that this show did not appear to be burdened with such a label, and allows the fun to come to the fore. It is quite the funniest version I have seen.

Duke Vincentio (Hotel Babylon’s sommelier, Raymond Coulthard) is a liberal ruler, fond of fun, dressing up, and even sleight of hand. He is a trickster on a small and a large scale. He leaves his city under the supervision and rule of his deputy, Angelo, who more Puritanical in outlook, seeks to enforce morality laws that Vincentio has let slide. And so, young Claudio is sentenced to death for impregnating his girlfriend with nary a wedding vow between ‘em. Claudio’s sister, novitiate nun Isabella comes to Vienna to plead for his life, but Angelo is not for turning. The play’s moral “problem” comes out when Angelo makes an indecent proposal to Isabella. Should she give up her virginity to save her brother’s life? This, in this version of Vienna, is a Big Deal, but the morality and the hypocrisy it exposes are not what drive this production. The problem is solved not by argument but by deception and subterfuge, contrived and engineered by Vincentio who is snooping around town disguised as a holy friar.

Raymond Coulthard commands the action. His Duke in disguise is a delight to behold, with many a knowing look to the audience. The plot is as corny as pulling a coin from another character’s ear but Vincentio is going through with it anyway and we enjoy every flick of the wrist and twist of the plot.

He is more than ably supported by an ensemble of lowly characters. I particularly enjoyed Joseph Kloska’s Pompey, who extemporises Shakespearean insults aimed at members of the audience. As upright Isabella, Jodie McNee carries the emotional weight of the play. The humourless Angelo (Jamie Ballard) convinces in his contrition but is in danger of being upstaged by Daniel Stewart’s drunken murderer, Barnardine.

The set suggests early 1960s or thereabouts. Black strips form a curtain, and quilted panels adorn the walls. The men wear leather trousers, polo-neck sweaters and girdles. The women are mainly French maids with more than a hint of dominatrix. Vincentio’s licentious Vienna is a seedy S&M club, with whips, chains and gas masks in abundance. The show ends, as Comedies should, with the company in a dance of celebration. This one is a twisted affair with lewd moves, nipple twisting and buttock slapping. But it’s all in a sense of fun. Bawdy but not gratuitous or squalid. This Measure for Measure has more to do with liberty and life than deprivation and depravity.