Tag Archives: Shaun Williamson

Working Perfectly

OUT OF ORDER

New Alexandra Theatre, Friday 14th April, 2017

 

Ray Cooney directs this new production of his 1990 farce, complete with bang up-to-date topical references.  These give the play the illusion of happening right now but the structure and genre of the piece root it firmly in the past.  And this is no bad thing – we don’t sneer at those who can still crank out a perfect sonnet; likewise, the well-made farce is an art form that few can pull off.  Cooney is a master.

The set-up is Tory MP (of course) Richard Willey (tonight played by stand-in Geoff Harmer) has rented a suite at the Westminster Hotel in which to entertain the secretary of the Leader of the Opposition.  The couple’s illicit fun is interrupted before it can begin by the discovery of a dead body trapped by a faulty sash window.  Willey enlists his PPS, George Pigden (Shaun Williamson) to assist.  Add to the mix the secretary’s enraged husband, a snooty hotel manager who tends to walk in at the least opportune moments, and an opportunistic waiter and the stage is set for fast-moving action and an increasingly complicated situation.  The laughs keep coming via verbal humour, physical comedy and dramatic irony – we delight in the misunderstandings and their convoluted consequences.

The energised ensemble play the comedy to the hilt.  Susie Amy, mostly in a state of undress, plays panic to perfection.  Arthur Bostrom simmers haughtily as the manager; James Holmes relishes his role as the colluding, mercenary waiter; Jules Brown brings menace and howling vulnerability as the rampaging husband; Elizabeth Elvin amuses as Nurse Foster; Sue Holderness brings a touch of class as Willey’s wife.  The entire cast proves its skills – the pace doesn’t let down for a second – but it is Williamson who is the biggest jewel in this star-studded crown.  His pained expression and increasing confusion and exasperation are expertly portrayed.  The timing is spot on – his desperate puppetry with the corpse (David Warwick being dead good!) is a scream.

The mechanics of the plot and the performance are in perfect working order.  The funniest couple of hours I’ve spent at the theatre for a long time, the play reminds us of the lengths MPs will go to, the lies they will spin, to cover their own tracks.  It made me long for simpler times when all we had to worry about from that lot was their sleazy, personal affairs.  Now, what Willey hoped to do to Ms Worthington is what the government is doing to the whole country – and that isn’t funny.

out of order

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Blue Suede Show

LOVE ME TENDER

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 24th August, 2015

 

This jukebox musical, inspired by and including songs made famous by Elvis Presley, turns out to be the epitome of the genre. No one is more delighted than I. There is even a jukebox on stage.

What sets this one apart from the others doing the rounds is its sense of humour. It knows it is froth and doesn’t take itself at all seriously. The plot borrows heavily from shows like Footloose and Hairspray but also from Shakespearean rom-coms, Twelfth Night and As You Like It. Almost everyone in it is a star-crossed lover, with their heart set on the wrong person. Complications mount up until the final scene, and there are lots of laughs along the way, killer songs that just keep coming, and boundless energy from a lively and talented chorus.

Ben Lewis is guitar-playing roustabout Chad who rocks up in a nameless Midwest town; he’s part-Elvis, part-Fonz with his jukebox-mending magical touch, and there is also more than a hint of Johnny Bravo. He falls for the local museum curator (Kate Tydman) but it is Natalie (Laura Tebbutt) the local mechanic who sets her sight on him – to the extent that she dresses up as a guitar-playing roustabout in order to spend time hanging out with him. Chad finds Ed strangely alluring, and so does the museum curator in scenes that resemble Olivia and Viola, and Viola and Orsino. It’s all silly fun, played with verve by the young leads, and there is an amusing turn by Mark Anderson as Dennis, a nerd in love with Natalie…

A subplot involving interracial couple Lorraine (an excellent Aretha Ayeh) and Dean (an appealing Felix Mosse) hints at a darker world beyond the town’s limits, but the show doesn’t dwell on such unpleasantness. Their rendition of It’s Now or Never is a comic highlight, hilariously staged by director/choreographer Karen Bruce.

Bruce keeps the action fluid, using a versatile, stylised set (by Morgan Large) and a plethora of amusing props and ideas. Sian Reeves stalks around like a crab with a loudhailer as puritanical Mayor Matilda, the nominal villain of the piece – you may know what’s coming but it’s fun seeing it happen. Shaun Williamson is in great form as Natalie’s dad, Jim, a lonely widower; his singing voice is perfect for Elvis numbers and he uses his physicality to comic effect.

But it is Mica Paris who takes the honours as sassy bar owner Sylvia. Her delivery of sardonic one-liners is spot on and, of course, her singing is stupendous. I got chills, they’re multiplying – oops, wrong show.

Love Me Tender is non-stop entertainment, proper feel-good fun from start to roof-raising finish.

Mica Paris and Shaun Williamson (Photo: Johan Persson)

Mica Paris and Shaun Williamson (Photo: Johan Persson)


The Boss

ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 17th March, 2015

 

The National Theatre’s hit production reaches Wolverhampton for the final week of its tour and the energy levels show no signs of flagging. The emphasis is on laughs and plenty of them in this non-stop cavalcade of comedy in the old-fashioned way, right down to the comic asides that keep us in on the action.

Francis Henshall (Gavin Spokes) has been kicked out of his skiffle band but finds employment as a general factotum to not one but two unsavoury characters in the form of Roscoe Crabbe (really his own twin sister, impersonating her late brother!) and the boyfriend of Roscoe’s twin sister (and also his murderer) Stanley Stubbers. Add to the mix, arranged marriage, large sums of money and a shedload of slapstick, and the stage is set for a riotous couple of hours. It’s farce. It’s commedia dell’arte. It’s seaside postcards and Carry On.

It’s brilliant.

Spokes heads an ebullient cast. The comic timing is flawless. As hapless Henshall, Spokes throws himself into the role, literally – he even beats himself up. But, despite the title, this is not a One Man show. Shaun Williamson is superb as long-suffering patriarch, Charlie ‘the Duck’ Clench, with Jasmyn Banks hilarious as his melodramatically thick daughter, Pauline. A perfectly ridiculous Edward Hancock struts and postures around as wannabe actor Alan Dangle and David Verrey is good value as his lawyer father, Harry Dangle. The two guvnors, Alicia Davies and Patrick Warner, are equally preposterous in their characterisations – this is not a show about nuance. Characters are caricatures at the service of the plot and it’s utterly refreshing to see something so old-school working so well.

Emma Barton’s Dolly brings to mind a Joe Orton creation – in fact, Richard Bean’s wonderful script mines the traditions of British humour from the past three or four centuries. I particularly enjoyed Derek Elroy’s cheery old lag Lloyd Boateng but geriatric waiter Alfie (Michael Dylan) almost steals the show. It is Gavin Spokes who drives the engine, adlibbing with audience members and clearly still enjoying himself after all this time on the road.

Scene changes are covered by skiffle band The Craze (not the Krays, as I thought when I first heard them) but the interludes become increasingly bizarre as the show goes on. We are treated to a xylophone solo and later, someone plays an array of rubber-headed horns. It all adds to the heightened atmosphere of a piece that revels in contrivance and artificiality.

You don’t need to know the play’s heritage (although it’s detailed in the programme) to be able to laugh your face off at this relentlessly funny production. An absolute delight from start to finish.

one man


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)