Tag Archives: Sean Foley

Body of Evidence

Amédée

Birmingham REP, Tuesday 28th February, 2017

 

Eugene Ionesco’s absurd play from 1954 gets an update in this adaptation from Sean Foley, with topical references like ‘zero hours’ and ‘will of the people’.  It remains, however, curiously old-fashioned.  Like an extended skit, it brings us the story of Amédée, a failed playwright, and his wife Madeleine, a switchboard operator.  It emerges that these two are housebound, imprisoned by a secret they have shared for fifteen years.  The nature of that secret is revealed to us in glimpses: there is a dead body in their bedroom and it is growing, taking over the tiny flat.  The corpse brings with it an infestation of mushrooms and, of course, puts increasing strain on the marriage.  Nothing is fully explained; it is left to us to piece together what sense we can from the crumbs thrown our way.  What is clear is the toll the situation is taking on the couple – the stresses of being full-time carers, the guilt of a murder concealed…

I warm to Trevor Fox as the self-centred, ‘suffering’ writer, while Josie Lawrence’s long-suffering Madeleine makes an impact from the off.  The pair fire barbs at each other and sometimes expose their suffering.  Absurd though the situation may be, the emotions expressed – and the black humour – come across as authentic.  There are hints of a dark world outside their window, adding to the claustrophobia.

Director Roxana Silbert cranks up the pace, adding to the comic delivery.  Ti Green’s set shows a kind of ordered clutter – the ever-growing body is as hilarious as the sprouting mushrooms are sinister.  Dyfan Jones’s sound design complements the weirder moments and Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting washes the action in dramatic hues.

In the final scene, with the secret/corpse out in the open, Amédée finds a great weight has been lifted, and the anchor that has tethered him to his wife and to mundane matters is no longer keeping him down…

Funny, to be sure, intriguing – in places – the production reminds us how much British comedy owes to European influences.  Ionesco was Romanian but his work shows the sparks that lit the flame for the likes of Monty Python, Reeves and Mortimer, and The League of Gentlemen.

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Up against it: Josie Lawrence and Trevor Fox (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

 


The Butler Does It

JEEVES & WOOSTER in PERFECT NONSENSE

The REP, Birmingham, Monday 9th March, 2015

 

Where some adaptations of the writings of P G Wodehouse can fall short is that in translating the characters and the plots from the page to the stage or screen, they lose the author’s voice, which is a key part of the enjoyment for me. This version by the Goodale Brothers, wisely lets Bertie Wooster narrate proceedings, just as he does in the novels that feature his exploits, and so the wit of Wodehouse is undiminished.

It’s glorious fun. Lovable upper class twit Bertie (Robert Webb being truly excellent) recounts a particularly silly adventure involving blackmail, romantic intrigue and an antique silver cow creamer, with the assistance of trusty manservant Jeeves (Jason Thorpe) and a comparatively decrepit butler Seppings (Christopher Ryan). This latter pair take on a host of eccentric, larger-than-life characterisations. Thorpe is superb – especially as Stiffy Byng and Madeline Bassett, while Ryan (who may not be a Young One anymore) hurls himself around the stage as Aunt Dahlia and ridiculous giant Spode.

This is a production that revels in its own theatricality, smashing the fourth wall to smithereens in a hilarious and charming manner. Sean Foley directs his cast of three at breakneck speed. There is a sense that things must not be allowed to lag for a second, the laughs must keep coming or, like a delicate soufflé the whole enterprise will fall flat. It’s knockabout stuff, farcical and tremendously funny, and I am reminded of the attempts at dramatic production by Morecambe & Wise, which is no bad thing at all.

Alice Power’s set and costume designs lend period charm and the choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille is purely delightful.  The entire show is relentlessly amusing, charming and carried off with such brio, you leave the theatre with one of Bertie’s wide-mouth grins plastered all over your face.

Messrs Thorpe, Webb, and Ryan (Photo: Hugo Glendenning)

Messrs Thorpe, Webb, and Ryan (Photo: Hugo Glendenning)


Double-dealing and Double Meanings

A MAD WORLD MY MASTERS

The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 20th June, 2013

My first impression of this doctored version of Thomas Middleton’s Jacobean comedy, here updated to Soho in the 1950s, was that it is very similar to West End hit, One Man Two Guvnors, in terms of period and knockabout feel.  I suppose what it really demonstrates is the unchanging nature of comic archetypes.

The language has been not-so-much updated as interfered with (in a knowing, oo-er Mrs kind of way) with modern-day interjections thrust into the play’s convoluted passages. Almost every line is a sexual metaphor of some kind.  I didn’t know where to put myself.The cast handle whatever comes their way with relish.

It’s at first a celebration of human flaws and foibles, as certain characters set out to take advantage of others in a variety of means. Dick Follywit (Richard Goulding) can’t wait to inherit his uncle’s fortune and so he sets out to rob the old man by dint of disguise and confidence trickery.  Goulding has something of a dynamic David Cameron about him (if you can imagine such a creature) – but don’t let that put you off. As his schemes unfold, it is with the old uncle that our sympathies lie. Ian Redford is marvellous as Sir Bounteous Peersucker, the victim of Follywit’s cons; he has peccadillos of his own, which make him ripe for exploiting. Scheming prostitute Truly Kidman (a superb Sarah Ridgeway) outdoes Follywit in the effectiveness of her deception.  She dresses as a nun in order to facilitate a sequestered wife’s liaisons with her lover.  That the wife is married to a Mr Littledick tells you all you need to know.  Her lover is one Penitent Brothel, a name that conjures up the duality of the character.  Played by the excellent John Hopkins, Brothel, having got what he wanted, repents of his lust and turns to self-flagellation instead, swapping one physical sensation for another.

There is much to admire in this strong company. Ishia Bennison delights as Truly Kidman’s mother and pimp; Richard Durden is a scream as “Spunky” the doddering old retainer whose hearing aids scream to herald his exits and entrances; Steffan Rhodri and Ellie Beaver as the Littledicks handle their broad comedy with aplomb, but my heart goes out to the hapless Constable (Dwane Walcott) perhaps the only innocent in the whole piece.

The production is riddled with contemporary music, some tunes more familiar than others. The cast have a go (Mrs Littledick’s Cry Me A River is poignant and apposite, Follywit’s number is less palatable – imagine the Bullingdon Boys doing Elvis) but most of the vocal stylings come from the sultry and soulful Linda John-Pierre.  I could happily have listened to her all night.

Director Sean Foley masters his mad world with total assurance.  The tampering with the text makes Middleton more accessible, demonstrating there is life in the old plots yet.  The play is still about what it was always about: the eternal folly of man. The moral seems to be we should enjoy others being made fools of while we can – we never know when it’s our turn.

In the last act, there is a play-within-a-play (a ruse to mask a robbery) and Sir Bounteous remarks that the ‘actors’ “have made faces at us, laughing at ourselves.”

There’s a double meaning in that.

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Penitent Brothel (John Hopkins) enjoys a Littledick (Ellie Beaver)


House of Fun

THE LADYKILLERS
Malvern Theatres, Tuesday 27th November, 2012

Graham Linehan’s stage adaptation of the classic film comedy is an unadulterated joy from start to finish. The first aspect of this production that strikes you is the marvellous, higgledy-piggledy set, designed to show several rooms in Mrs Wilberforce’s railwayside house. Walls and doors lurch at bizarre angles like something out of a German expressionist film – or flatpack furniture put together by yours truly. It soon becomes apparent there is a reason for this crooked house: subsidence, but the kooky nature of the environment is the perfect setting for the crazy, off-centre characters who inhabit it. Designer Michael Taylor provides plenty of surprises in his detailed and versatile creation.

Michele Dotrice heads the superb cast as lovable old dodderer, Mrs Wilberforce, who rents out a room to what she thinks is a string quintet. She potters around, oblivious and vulnerable and yet somehow commanding. It is easy to see how the ne’er-do-wells are reluctant to bump her off.

The crooks are masterminded by Professor Marcus (Paul Bown) who is deliciously sinister and ingratiating. As neurotic Major Courtney, Clive Mantle channels John Cleese (and Danny LaRue!); Chris McCalphy is consistently hilarious as dim-witted oaf One Round; Shaun Williamson impresses as Romanian hit man Louis Harvey; and William Troughton’s Harry Robinson is a mass of pent-up energy, guzzling pills and being hit in the face more times than I could count. Marcus Taylor’s Constable Macdonald lends solid support, worldly wise and yet blinkered at the same time. Each character is well-defined, albeit in broad strokes as befits the farcical situation.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the film but I think I can spot updates in the script and Linehan interpolations. The ‘buggers’ are the more obvious contemporary additions. Purists may baulk but the language adds to the incongruence of the hoodlums in the sweet little old lady’s home. The new lines lend darkness to the piece that would be created by other means on film. What we get here is an undoubtedly theatrical piece, with a rich vein of dark humour that reminded me of Arsenic and Old Lace in more ways than one.

Sean Foley directs the ensemble with gusto, keeping the pace going, embracing the silliness and encouraging the larger-than –life. There is an amusing representation of the heist with model cars driving up a wall, and a good deal of physical business to keep the actors occupied. The show is a well-oiled machine but feels absolutely fresh, inventive and funny.

This is much more than a re-enactment of a film. The adaptation gives us a well-made play with its own integrity. Unfortunately, there are other shows doing the rounds that fall short of this requirement. (Dirty Dancing, cough cough)