Tag Archives: Roger Morlidge

A Visit to the Gents

THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 14th August, 2014

One of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies and – guess what – it’s very funny. The script effervesces with word play and there are some good groanworthy gags to boot. The cast in Simon Godwin’s easy-going production handle the convoluted verbal sparring apparently effortlessly, and comic set-pieces (monologues and a double act) are played to the hilt with expert timing.

Michael Marcus is a dashing, upright Valentine, a likeable young man leaving home to make his way in the throbbing metropolis that is Milan. He’s a decent cove so we’re on his side when he plots to steal away Silvia, the object of his affection, from her lofty accommodation with the aid of a rope ladder. The plan goes awry and Val finds himself banished. Meanwhile, his BFF Proteus (an excellent Mark Arends) is sent to join him, parting with such sweet sorrow from his girlfriend Julia (Pearl Chanda). As soon as he claps eyes on Silvia, Proteus changes his affections and sets out to have the girl to himself by whatever means.

He’s a villain, driven by love, a selfish kind of love. You wonder why Julia bothers to come after him, disguised as a boy.

In this play Shakespeare sets out his stall for comedies to come. The best ideas here are reimagined in later works: Julia as a page, delivers letters to Silvia (c.f. Viola and Olivia in Twelfth Night); a comic routine detailing the virtues and vices of a milkmaid chimes with Dromio’s spherical woman in Comedy of Errors… The lovers’ tribulations come to a head in the wild, lawless world of a forest… (Midsummer Night’s Dream). In this respect, this fun and enjoyable production would serve as an excellent introduction to Shakespeare.

Roger Morlidge (Launce) and Martin Bassindale’s Speed are the clown roles, intercutting the main action with comic business that never gets in the way of the inherent humour of the text. The former’s dog, Crab, (an adorably scruffy ‘Mossup’) inevitably steals every scene in which he appears.

Pearl Chanda is an appealing Julia, supported by perky, sometimes downright bawdy maid Lucetta (an energetic Leigh Quinn). Sarah Macrae is elegant and chic as the beautiful Silvia – the costumes (Italian, 1950s-60s) look their best on her. Jonny Glynn’s Duke of Milan brings gravitas and cunning – his surprise exclamation of ‘Booyah’ intimates that we are not meant to take him too seriously. The mighty Youssef Kerkour appears in a brief cameo as Sir Eglamour, but one of the undoubted highlights is prat-on-the-make Turio’s rendition of the song Who Is Silvia? – Nicholas Gerard-Martin brings the house down in a superbly realised moment.

Also handled very well is the play’s problematic ending – perhaps it’s only problematic to our cynical postmodern eyes – as Valentine forgives Proteus for all his wrongdoing. I found the reconciliation rather touching.

The RSC has a hit with this seldom-performed treat. Visually beautiful, with some lovely live music (by Michael Bruce) this stylish and accessible production hits all the right notes in all the right places.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona production photos_2014_Stratford - Royal Shakespeare Theatre_Photo by Simon Annand _c_ RSC_2G0V-141

Valentine (Michael Marcus) and Speed (Martin Bassindale)

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A Revealing Drama

THE FULL MONTY

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 26th February, 2013

Writer Simon Beaufoy adapts his own screenplay from the much-loved film for this touring stage production – a play, unlike the musical version of a few years ago, which transplanted the action to the USA.  The good news is this adaptation brings the story back to Sheffield and works brilliantly.  Playing to a packed house, the story is something of a period piece but I was struck by how pertinent it is to today’s economic woes.

Driven by necessity to stealing girders from the factory in which they used to work, the men of Sheffield hit upon the idea of forming a male strip troupe for a one-night only, get cash quick, performance, that will ease their situation and lift them (albeit temporarily) out of the mire.

The premise immediately taps into a rich vein of humour but also a richer vein of pathos.  What the film did, and what the play does, is give dignity to the jobless by emphasising their humanity.  They are not just statistics, or the ‘undeserving poor’ – these are individuals each with his own story.  In Thatcher’s Britain, the unemployed were perhaps more visible than they are nowadays in the land of Cameron and Clegg.  These days, they are hidden in fudged figures and online job-seeking.  These days they are clumped together as scroungers and shirkers, vilified and demonised.  This play reminds us the unemployed have skills, feelings and aspirations.  I found it very apposite.  Members of the misguided Cabinet should be made to watch this show until they get the point.

Led by Gaz, the group of men stumble their way through rehearsals, in hilarious bouts of physical comedy.  None of them are Chippendales material, but that is entirely the point.  They are bloke-shaped blokes, willing to objectify themselves from economic necessity, in circumstances that were not of their making.  It all builds to the performance itself and the final reveal.  Backlighting protects the actors’ modesty, but that final moment of triumph when the characters go the full monty is uplifting in its symbolism.  We are men, the gesture asserts, here we are.  In their northern dialect, one might say “Ecky homo!”

The cast is excellent.   Kenny Doughty’s Gaz is the Jack-the-lad figure, desperate to retain access to his son (a very strong Jay Olpin).  Roger Morlidge is Dave, the biggest bloke on a diet of cream crackers.  He’s a gentle giant and his scenes with wife Jean (a superb Rachel Lumberg) are among the most touching moments.  Craig Gazey is weirdo Lomper, displaying perfect comic timing.  Simon Rouse is effective as ex-foreman Gerald who comes to learn that even people who don’t attend the Conservative club, and yes, even his own wife, have more to them than he at first supposes.   Sidney Cole brings dignity as well as broad comedy to his role as a man called Horse, and Kieran O’Brien brings confidence as cocky Guy – if I can use that epithet!

Robert Jones’s design keeps the architecture of the disused factory present throughout.  Its girders and corrugated iron haunt the men’s lives wherever they go.  Director Daniel Evans handles the changes in tone and the action expertly.  I suspect that a large contingent in the audience come to see some grown men take off their clothes rather than a play about grown men who take off their clothes.  There’s a difference in perception there but the drama wins out.  When the men achieve their aim, reclaiming their masculinity, we cheer their endeavour and their success rather than the actual stripping.   I’d like to think that’s the case, anyway.  And any anti-Thatcher sentiment is always welcome.

A thoroughly entertaining evening and a flawless production, The Full Monty is much, much more than a bit of a giggle for a girls’ night out.

full monty tour