A JUDGMENT IN STONE
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 20th February, 2017
Formerly the Agatha Christie Theatre Company, the Classic Thriller Theatre Company hopes to emulate its earlier success by expanding the range of writers it draws upon, and so we have this adaptation of a Ruth Rendell novel, delivered in the company’s solid and classy style.
I don’t know if it exists in the book, never having read it, but this version, by Simon Brett and Anthony Lampard, uses the device of alternating scenes of the police investigation with flashbacks leading up to the brutal murder of the Coverdale family. Past and present collide and keep us hooked on the developing mystery.
Sophie Ward is excellent as the dowdy housekeeper, Eunice Parchman, hiding what to her is a terrible secret. As the detectives, Vetch and Challoner, Andrew Lancel and Ben Nealon exude an air of easy professionalism. Mark Wynter amuses as the smug patriarch George Coverdale, while Rosie Thomson as his wife is the life and soul of the household. Joshua Price mills around as the bookish, oddball son, and Jennifer Sims brings emotional depth to her role of Melinda, the daughter home from university. We know the family is doomed – it’s a matter of when and by whom that keeps us intrigued. They’re all so terribly middle-class, calling each other ‘darling’ all the time, that we perhaps don’t much care about them as individuals. Rather our sympathy lies elsewhere – but that would be telling.
The usually glamorous Shirley Anne Field dresses down as cleaner Mrs Baalham, and Deborah Grant muttons up as outlandish postmistress and religious crank, Joan Smith. Revelation of the night (apart from the whodunit) is former Blue singer Antony Costa delivering a nice line in character acting as the reformed criminal and gardener, Rodger Meadows.
Julie Godfrey’s set epitomises the country house mystery, but it also communicates a message about the permanence of the class system – this is a story with class, in more ways than one. Director Roy Marsden keeps the action flowing seamlessly between the two timelines, using Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting design to mark when we are, as well as to highlight certain dramatic moments.
It all makes up for a solid and reliable piece of entertainment, excellently presented. We may guess who is responsible, but when the murder scene finally arrives it is no less shocking. Pace and tone are handled expertly to deliver the goods.
The Agatha Christie Theatre Company is dead; long live the Classic Thriller Theatre Company!
Sophie Ward (Photo: Mark Yeoman)
Leave a comment | tags: A Judgment In Stone, Agatha Christie Theatre Company, Andrew Lancel, Antony Costa, Antony Lampard, Ben Nealon, Birmingham, Classic Thriller Theatre Company, Deborah Grant, Jennifer Sims, Joshua Price, Julie Godfrey, Malcolm Rippeth, Mark Wynter, New Alexandra Theatre, review, Rosie Thomson, Roy Marsden, Ruth Rendell, Shirley-Anne Field, Simon Brett, Sophie Ward, whodunit | posted in Theatre Review
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 21st October, 2014
A glance at the cast list for this touring production leads one to think, ungallantly, that they’re all a bit, well, long in the tooth for Oscar Wilde’s comedy about a pair of young Lotharios. The company is evidently aware of how they will be perceived and so the Wilde play is framed within another play about a bunch of middle class amateur thesps gathering for a rehearsal of The Importance in somebody’s house. I remember Hinge and Bracket doing something similar yonks ago.
And so, in fits and starts the “Bunbury Players” present the opening act. In sub-Noises Off fashion things go wrong on and off stage, only here instead of sardines it’s cucumber sandwiches that go astray. I appreciate why this framing story (written by Simon Brett) might be necessary but it’s excruciating and gets in the way of dear old Oscar’s genius. Where this production comes alive is when they let Wilde have his head and scenes are performed with vim and gusto uninterrupted by contrived ‘mistakes’.
Nigel Havers is at home in either play as the womanising Dicky who plays Algernon. It’s the kind of smarm and charm that has become his trademark and there is even a hint of sending himself up. With Martin Jarvis as a white-haired but nevertheless energetic Jack Worthing (supposedly 29 years old) there is some very funny verbal sparring. We overlook their advanced years and enjoy the play for itself.
Sian Phillips makes a formidable Lady Bracknell, while Cherie Lunghi convinces as young Gwendolen, up against Christine Kavanagh’s spirited Cecily. Some of the comic business director Lucy Bailey has them do is a little heavy-handed. Wilde should be kept frothy but barbed.
Niall Buggy is a treat as Reverend Chasuble to Rosalind Ayres’s neurotic Miss Prism.
After the interval, the ‘interruptions’ no longer trouble us but there remains an abiding sense of tension that at any minute, something ‘hilarious’ will ‘go wrong’ and deflate the delicious soufflé the actors are working hard to create.
Mercifully, it doesn’t and every member of the cast proves there is not only life but talent and ability in this pack of old dogs. The result is an amusing evening with the biggest laughs going to Wilde’s dazzling epigrams, but I would prefer it if they hadn’t pandered to ageism and just played it ‘straight’.
Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis
Leave a comment | tags: Cherie Lunghi, Christine Kavanagh, Lucy Bailey, Martin Jarvis, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Niall Buggy, Nigel Havers, Oscar Wilde, Rosalind Ayres, Sian Phillips, Simon Brett, The Importance of Being Earnest | posted in Theatre Review
MURDER IN PLAY
Festival Theatre, Malvern, Wednesday 28th May, 2013
Noises Off the famous farce-within-a-farce was blatantly the inspiration for Simon Brett’s murder-mystery-within-a-murder-mystery from 1993. It begins with a scene of excruciating dialogue and clunky accents and we fear we’re in for some am dram level old pot-boiler, but, we can relax: this is a rehearsal. The real characters are a troupe of actors struggling through a run the night before their play is due to open.
We have Alison Mead as stuffy ‘Lady Chomondley’ as performed by the ‘director’s’ snooty wife; Lord Rodney Pirbright (Dean Gaffney in a James Bond dinner jacket) as performed by Equity stickler ‘Tim’; Katy Manning plays a former soap legend reduced to mugging and girning as cook/housekeeper ‘Mrs Puttock’; Richard Tate in a ridiculous wig as villainous Mr Papadapoulous as portrayed by dotty old sot ‘Harrison Braithwaite’…
Poppy Meadows gives the greatest contrast between her two roles. As ‘Virginia Chomondley’ she is all cut-glass and straight-necked, and then as actress ‘Ginette Vincent’ she is all ditzy and gor-blimey. This helps us to keep clear about when they are ‘on’ and when they are ‘off’.
The rehearsal is interrupted by ‘director’ Boris Smolensky – David Callister, mangling vowels and strutting around despotically in pretentious cowboy boots. It’s a masterly comic turn. It’s pleasing to see many of the cast, who are old hands at the creaky murder mystery, sending up the genre so effectively. Katy Manning is enjoying herself as health-nut ‘Christa’, firing off bitchy remarks with relish. Julia Main is hilarious as dopey stage manager Pat, and Dean Gaffney is a revelation, showing a flair for comic timing and face-pulling. He seems more at ease in this type of thing and should do more comedy.
Richard Tate is the funniest by a country mile. A veteran performer, he is a master of the silly accent and migrating limp when ‘in role’ but also delivers a fine characterisation as the absent-minded old lush.
It falls to Gemma Bissix as ‘Sophie Lawton’, whose sexy maid outfit hides an analytical mind. She has great swathes of exposition and explanation to get through in order to reveal the killer – somebody has to do it! It’s just a pity she doesn’t get to have as much fun with her characterisation as the rest of the cast do with theirs.
Real-life director Ian Dickens keeps it moving. With farcical shows, you can’t let the balloon touch the ground. I can’t help wondering how close his own working methods are to those utilised by the on-stage Boris…
A funny, clever script well-played, this production is doing the rounds as part of Ian Dickens Productions’ summer season. It is well worth an evening of anyone’s time.
Well hard. Dean Gaffney and Poppy Meadows.
Leave a comment | tags: Alison Mead, David Callister, Dean Gaffney, Gemma Bissix, Ian Dickens, Julia Main, Katy Manning, Malvern Theatres, Murder in Play, Poppy Meadows, review, Richard Tate, Simon Brett | posted in Theatre Review