Tag Archives: Simon Kenny

Off the Grid

NOUGHTS & CROSSES

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Wednesday 27th March, 2019

 

Malorie Blackman’s seminal YA novel puts a spin on Romeo and Juliet, setting the love story in a parallel world that is rife with segregation and discrimination.  Now it comes to the stage in this pacey new adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz.  Simon Kenny’s set has movable flats that bear the 3×3 grid of the time-honoured game, and incorporates elements of Joshua Drualus Pharo’s lighting design, to create a stylish, non-naturalistic backing for the action.  For all its stylisation, this is a world we recognise all too well…

Society is split into Noughts and Crosses, the former being the underclass, the oppressed white race, with the latter holding all the power, the wealth, and even the orange juice.  Young Callum (from Nought family the Macgregors) and Persephone (Sephy) Hadley grow up together, but theirs is an unconventional friendship, going against cultural prejudices on both sides of the divide.  Sephy’s dad is Home Secretary, striving to placate an increasingly unruly and pro-active population, while of course maintaining the status quo.  The measures he takes are far from enough to appease the militant Noughts, and it’s not long before a terrorist act takes place.

As the central young couple, Heather Agyepong is a spirited and principled Sephy, with an equally appealing Billy Harris as Callum.  They are supported by a strong cast of half a dozen, including Lisa Howard – heartrending as Callum’s mum, Doreene Blackstock as Sephy’s frazzled and alcoholic mum, Daniel Copeland as Callum’s dad, who becomes radicalised by his other son Jude (a strong Jack Condon).  Kimisha Lewis impresses as Sephy’s prejudiced older sister Minerva, while Chris Jack’s Kamal, Sephy’s politician dad, convinces totally.

Director Esther Richardson keeps a naturalistic tone among the spots of narration, and uses expressionistic movements to reveal the characters’ inner lives as well as to stage difficult-to-stage moments (like a bomb going off).  The music and sound design of Arun Ghosh and Xana add to the disquiet and sense of impending doom.  It all adds up to a thoroughly gripping piece of theatre, excellently and compellingly staged.

It’s a provocative piece.  By flipping the races, Malorie Blackman makes us face the dystopian society in which we continue to live.  Even minor details are telling, like when a Nought complains that sticking plasters are not available in their skin tone.

This thought-provoking, tragic drama covers a lot of ground, bringing to the fore issues that have woefully become more urgent in recent times.

Highly recommended.

Heather Agyepong as Sephy and Billy Harris as Callum - Noughts and Crosses - Photo by Robert Day - ASC_3791

Heather Agyepong (Sephy) and Billy Harris (Callum) Photo: Robert Day

 

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Storms in Teacups

ABSENT FRIENDS

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Monday 8th June, 2015

Alan Ayckbourn’s acerbic ‘comedy of embarrassment’ pre-dates Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party by a few years and television shows like The Office by many. A real-time glimpse into a suburban house, one cringe-worthy Saturday afternoon when hostess Diana is throwing a tea party for old friend Colin, whose fiancée has recently drowned to death. As the guests gather, acrimony and suspicion, resentment and bitterness, all float to the surface so that when the bereaved Colin finally arrives, he is by far the most well-adjusted and happy of the lot – and that’s not saying much!

Catherine Harvey is excellent as the brittle Diana, a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, both driven and hampered by social niceties. Bullied by husband Paul (Kevin Drury) Diana reaches breaking point, leaving it to her guests to keep the party going. Kathryn Ritchie’s Evelyn is a truculent, gum-cracking monster, making the most of her mainly monosyllabic lines. John Dorney is absolutely hilarious as Evelyn’s ants-in-his-pants husband, John, but it’s Alice Selwyn’s Marge who takes the comedy crown in a superbly realised and rounded characterisation of a woman who mollycoddles her hypochondriac (and unseen) husband, while sublimating her own needs into shopping for hideous clothes. Here she is helped by Simon Kenny’s design work. The 1970s setting (the play is now a period piece) adds to the humour: Marge’s truly awful new shoes look funnier now than they might have done back then, when we were all wearing them.

Michael Cabot keeps things cracking along at a fair lick. Any moments of quiet are thus all the more effective, and he builds moments of crescendo with an expert touch. Ayckbourn’s script is extremely funny, showing his ear for the humour in naturalistic dialogue as well as bringing out the bleakness of the characters’ lives. Each marriage we observe is some kind of hell for its inmates. Only Colin (Ashley Cook, splendidly irritating), who escaped marriage due to his fiancée’s premature death, seems at peace – he missed the opportunity for the shine to go off his perfect relationship and so it is eternally untarnished, as encapsulated in the holiday photographs he insists on passing around.

London Classic Theatre delivers a highly entertaining production, like one of those sweets with a sour filling. Fashions and furniture may have changed but human beings remain resolutely as flawed as ever.

absent friends


Doing What They Orton

ENTERTAINING MR SLOANE

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Thursday 3rd July, 2014

 

It’s fifty years since Joe Orton’s sordid little play was first produced and half a century later as this touring production from London Classic Theatre shows, it may not be as shocking as it once was, but it’s certainly still very funny.

Simon Kenny’s set has more junk than Steptoe’s yard but all the play requires is a sofa, and an armchair. We are in the lounge room of Kath, an emotionally scarred, sexually voracious woman in her forties. She has brought a young man called Sloane into the house with a view to renting him a room. Sloane is fit – more so, with a shock of bleached blond hair. The seductress becomes the seduced as Sloane ingratiates himself into the household. Kath’s decrepit old father, Kemp, smells a rat, recognising the young man in connection with a violent murder, but Kath’s brother Ed also takes a shine to the new lodger and so a power play ensues during which Kath proves she’s not so much of a victim and Ed allows his attraction to Sloane to get in the way of common sense.

Orton gives his characters eloquence and bathos, which makes them all the more grotesque, but their inner workings, their psychology, are all credible. The playwright also expects the audience to piece things together, from contradictory fragments of the characters’ back stories.

As smothering landlady Kath, Pauline Whitaker has the best comic timing of this quartet of fine performers, while Jonathan Ashley’s Ed reacts almost melodramatically or cartoonishly to Sloane’s bare torso and “I’m an orphan” sob story. Nicholas Gasson is both disgusting and endearing as the vulnerable old duffer, and Paul Sandys’s opportunistic Sloane is a mass of pent-up energy and cynical game-playing.

Director Michael Cabot lets Orton’s play speak for itself, keeping the laugh levels high and pitching the tone larger-enough-than-life to give the world of the play its own feel, where naturalistic speech, hyperbole and epigrams pour out of the characters’ mouths – ah, what Orton might have gone on to create, had he not been murdered!

This is the last week of a long tour and the cast show no signs of flagging. Well worth the trip to Coventry, this production shows us an old classic that still works to entertain and revile. We are all ruled by lust and fear, Orton says – behold the human animal in its glory.

As transparent as her dress, Kath (Pauline Whitaker) makes her move on Sloane (Paul Sandys)

As transparent as her dress, Kath (Pauline Whitaker) makes her move on Sloane (Paul Sandys)