Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Thursday 3rd October, 2019
Rona Munro’s new stage adaptation of the novel that gave birth to the genre of science fiction puts its author, Mary Shelley at the centre of the action. Tightly wound, spirited and full of youthful vigour, Mary is bursting with creativity as, before our very eyes, she writes the book that will render her immortal. She narrates, breaks the fourth wall, and even collaborates with her characters as she starts and stops the story – we, of course, know how it will turn out, but it’s an effective and stylish way to present events we have seen portrayed time and time again.
As Mary, Eilidh Loan is a dynamic stage presence, hugely entertaining, wry and knowing, transmitting Mary’s passion to get her story written. Her characters, seemingly under her control, are played by a strong ensemble: Ben Castle-Gibb is excellent as the driven Victor Frankenstein, showing his descent into obsession and insanity with great power; Thierry Mabonga is strong in three different roles, the salty Captain Walton, young William Frankenstein, and Victor’s best mate Henry; Greg Powrie brings authority to his roles as Victor’s father, and Waldman the doctor who recruits Victor as his assistant. Natali McCleary brings vulnerability and strength to Elizabeth, but it is Michael Moreland as the ‘Monster’ who captivates our attention, from the jerky movements that bring him to life, to his augmented voice.
Becky Minto’s wintry set is striking and functional, giving two levels and a range of possibilities; her costume designs are elegantly tailored to denote the period. Simon Slater’s discordant music and eerie sound design add to the tension, while Grant Anderson’s lighting bathes the action in cold beauty. Director Patricia Benecke makes sparing use of shadowplay and mist for atmosphere and effect, and on the whole, this is a gripping and inventive retelling. Oddly though, very little sympathy is elicited for the Monster – the script allows him no opportunity to show his potential for goodness. We only see him as a killer, an angry reject of society, and that’s a shame. It’s like he was built with a bit missing.
This production is a fresh take on the well-worn tale, in which Mary Shelley has a message for us today, for our government in particular, above and beyond the usual don’t-dabble-with-nature theme. She says, “If you neglect those you are supposed to care for, the weak, the poor, their destruction will be your shame.” The play goes to some length to bring out Shelley’s revolutionary politics. Right on!
Daddy issues: the Monster (Michael Moreland) and Victor (Ben Castle-Gibb) Photo: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.
1 Comment | tags: Becky Minto, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Ben Castle-Gibb, Eilidh Loan, Frankenstein, Grant Anderson, Greg Powrie, Mary Shelley, Michael Moreland, Natali McCleary, Patricia Benecke, review, Rona Munro, Simon Slater, Thierry Mabonga | posted in Review, Theatre Review
CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN
The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 29th May, 2019
Rona Munro’s masterly adaptation of the Louis de Bernieres bestseller reimagines the novel as an exuberantly theatrical piece. Directed by Melly Still, this production uses a child-like approach: the weapons are all mimed, exploded soldiers perform pratfalls onto their backpacks – but this war game is deadly. There are consequences beyond the bang-bang-you’re-dead action. Still uses heavily stylised, emblematic elements to create some striking imagery: the dead caught in a web of death is particularly horrific. Augmented by Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting and Jon Nicholls’s sound, the storytelling is impeccable. This is grown-up theatre at its finest and the scenes of violence are all the more powerful rendered in this way.
Alex Mugnaioni is the titular officer, a remote figure at first before he comes to occupy a room in the house of Dr Iannis (an avuncular joseph Long) and insinuate himself into the affections of the doctor’s resourceful daughter Pelagia (Madison Clare). The couple’s relationship is tainted by the encroaching events of the war in Greece; their love story is searing and romantic, and we see the life-changing disruption caused not only by conflict but also by the passage of time. Mugnaioni and Clare are sweet and touching in their portrayal of these star-cross’d lovers. Corelli’s mandolin playing is a reminder of the beauty humans can create, a counterpoint to the man-made horrors of war. He plays wonderfully but will Corelli be able to pluck up the courage to do what is necessary?
The presentation may be stylised but human nature is revealed through raw emotion and truthful playing. Eve Polycarpou performs some heart-rending vocalisations as the grief-stricken Drosoula; Ryan Donaldson’s imposing presence is offset by his character’s tender nature – we feel it when Carlos falls for Francesco (Fred Fergus) and are heartbroken by Carlos’s noble act of sacrifice. Ashley Gayle is a passionate Mandras, while Stewart Scudamore brings a touch of humour as Velisaros, the local strongman.
Truly fascinating are the performances of Luisa Guerreiro as a goat and Elizabeth Mary Williams as Psipsina, a pine marten. In fact, I often found myself focussing on their behaviours while the human characters were speaking!
Mayou Trikerioti’s set, almost spartan you might say, with a stepladder used as a door and two huge copper squares suspended at the back, somehow evokes Cephalonia. There is something about the metal that suggests the history of the island – the squares serve as screens for video effects too. There is original music by Harry Blake that enhances the local colour and stirs the emotions.
Rona Munro selects from de Berniere’s rich writing so that snippets and descriptive phrases work on our imaginations – adaptation is more than just retelling the plot. While I wasn’t reduced to floods of tears as I was when I read the novel, this is a superbly effective production, both shocking and moving, and above all thoroughly absorbing.
Fret not, Captain Corelli’s here! Alex Mugnaioni (Photo: Marc Brenner)
Leave a comment | tags: Alex Mugnaioni, Ashley Gayle, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Elizabeth Mary Williams, Eve Polycarpou, Fred Fergus, Harry Blake, Jon Nicholls, Joseph Long, Louis de Bernieres, Luisa Guerreiro, Madison Clare, Malcolm Rippeth, Mayou Trikerioti, Melly Still, Rona Munro, Ryan Donaldson, Stewart Scudamore | posted in Review, Theatre Review
REBUS: LONG SHADOWS
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 25th September, 2018
The character of John Rebus is familiar to many from the novels of Ian Rankin and their television adaptations. Here, he is brought to life by Charles Lawson (formerly Jim Macdonald off of Coronation Street) in this first-ever stage version, adapted by Rona Munro. Lawson is a compelling, dishevelled presence, a sleeping lion of a man whose exterior belies the power he retains. In retirement, he has lost none of the faculties that made him a good detective, and is still able to resort to, shall we call it ‘active persuasion’ to get the information he seeks.
The arrival of the daughter of a long-ago murder victim brings Rebus out of his Edinburgh flat and on the hunt for a resolution to the cold case. Meanwhile, his mentee Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke (the mighty Cathy Tyson) is keen to get a serial rapist/murderer banged up. Suddenly, Rebus is juggling two investigations, and the involvement of nasty piece of work crime lord ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty brings to light a dark secret from the former detective’s past…
It’s an intriguing if wordy tale, heavy on the exposition but played with conviction so it never falls short of gripping – and there are more laughs in it than you might expect. Director Robin Lefevre maintains a naturalistic if intense style from his small but excellent cast, played against Ti Green’s stylised set – a sweeping staircase and foreboding walls that would not be out of place in an opera house. Garth McConaghie’s original music is moody and urgent, befitting the thriller aspects of the story, and his sound design is disquieting. The crimes are kept off-stage but are evoked by the dramatic device of having a couple of victims (Dani Heron and Eleanor House) appearing to haunt and taunt Rebus with his failure to secure a conviction and get them the justice they deserve.
Lawson and Tyson make an abrasive double act – we sense the mutual respect beneath the barbs and the jibes – but it is the scenes between Lawson and Big Ger (John Stahl) that make all the backstory worthwhile. Stahl is menacingly charismatic, contrasting with Lawson’s comparatively passive presence, as Rebus apparently effortlessly manages the situation… There is strong support from Neil McKinven in a couple of roles, and Eleanor House as Heather, the young femme fatale of the piece.
The waters are muddied. This is no black-and-white crime story. The morality is as murky as an Edinburgh fog. One thing is unequivocal: Tyson yearns for a world in which men never attack women. Looking at the current state of American politics, that world seems a long way off.
A stylish, involving piece, slickly presented and expertly played. I would not be averse to seeing further Rebus stories staged in this way.
Cathy Tyson and Charles Lawson (Photo: Robert Day)
Leave a comment | tags: Cathy Tyson, Charles Lawson, Dani Heron, Eleanor House, Garth McConaghie, Ian Rankin, John Stahl, Neil McKinven, Rebus: Long Shadows, Robin Lefevre, Rona Munro, Ti Green | posted in Review, Theatre Review