Tag Archives: Simon Ravenhill

Blooming Great

THE SECRET GARDEN

Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham, Saturday 5th August, 2017

 

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s celebrated children’s novel first appeared in 1911.  It wasn’t quite that long ago when I read it but various film and stage adaptations of it have kept the story and characters in my mind over the years.  Now comes this new version by Simon Ravenhill and it’s a corker.  With only a cast of four, Ravenhill delivers the whole book and while the action moves swiftly, it never feels rushed.  The pacing is spot on, allowing key moments to develop and play out while keeping the plot ticking along.

Nicolette Morgan is our heroine, the orphan Mary Lennox, returning from India to an England she has never known.  Accustomed to being dressed by her Ayah, Mary is a fish out of kedgeree and, pretty much left to her own devices, continues to feel unloved and unwanted by all and sundry.  Until she begins to make friends, that is.  Morgan is excellent, giving us young Mary’s wilfulness and vulnerability without playing down to the character’s age.

She is supported by three versatile character actors who populate the rest of the story with quick changes and varied characterisations – it’s easy to forget there’s only four of them in it, and such is the transformative nature of the costumes and the actors’ skills, it’s hard to believe that the fearsome housekeeper Mrs Medlock is played by the same actor (Dru Stephenson) as the likeable, green-fingered, Doctor Doolittle-ish young boy, Dickon.  Lorenna White bobs and chatters as chambermaid Martha, and really comes into her own as the tantrum-throwing invalid Colin.  James Nicholas brings stature to the piece in a range of authoritarian roles: the Doctor,  the hunchbacked Mr Craven, a colonel.   This is a top-drawer quartet in a high-quality piece.

Simon Ravenhill also directs, getting his cast to work hard to keep things going, and there are plenty of pleasing touches, simple but so effective: a four-poster bed dominates the set, and a free-standing but movable door helps give the sense of the rambling country manor house to which Mary is consigned.   Puppets are used sparingly for that extra touch of animal magic.  The detailed costumes and the odd piece of furniture convey the period setting but it’s the actors that drive the piece.  Ravenhill’s script uses Burnett’s words but allows the characters to interact rather than resorting to narration.  I will admit to having something of a Pavlovian response to the Indian music used to underscore the scene changes.  By the interval, I was craving a vegetable madras.

A faithful and classy production of a classic story with a child-friendly running time, this is a captivating and well-tended Secret Garden that touches the heart and is yet another example of the excellent work produced at the Blue Orange.  The book’s message remains: what is left neglected will wither and spoil.  And that works for people as much as plants.

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Getting Wood

NIGHT OF THE BRIDE OF PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE

The Blue Orange Theatre, Birmingham, Thursday 1st September, 2016

 

Writer-director Simon Ravenhill cobbles together scenes and characters from three films by the infamous director Ed Wood.  Three of the worst films ever made.  Alien invasions, raising the dead, mad scientists, and an atomic octopus all rub along together in this madcap comedy in which a cast of five rush around to populate the stage with a range of characters.

It is an absolute scream.  Melodramatic and camp in the extreme, the show uses Wood’s inarticulate sensationalism to intentionally comic effect.  Here we laugh with them rather than at Wood’s ineptitude.  It’s a gloriously funny show that subverts the crapness of its origins into slick and silly slapstick.

Simon Garrington appeals as handsome hunk of a leading man Dick, who has trouble keeping his shirt on.  Stuart Horobin impresses as mad scientist Vornoff and army colonel Edwards.  Kaz Luckins stalks hilariously across the stage behind long fingernails as a vampish ghoul.  Richard Nunn makes a remarkably eloquent grunting zombie.  But it’s Rebecca Rochelle who absolutely shines as leading lady Janet, replicating the style of the B-movies with every arch of her eyebrow.  The cast manage to instil energy into Wood’s risible dialogue and throw themselves around with gusto, pulling off quick changes and a variety of broad characterisations that emulate the quirks and mannerisms of the films’ original casts.  There is a lot of desk-slapping and heightened posturing.  What Wood’s actors did from lack of talent, Ravenill’s accomplish with aplomb.

Ravenhill wrings laughs out of every second, keeping proceedings on the right side of shonky.  Video projections complement the action and add to the fun.  And I absolutely loved the ray gun fashioned from a blender.  It’s a show that rejoices in its source material, pulling off with skill and talent what Ed Wood did unintentionally.

A sheer delight from start to finish, this production deserves a bigger audience and a longer life.  Running until September 10th, there are still tickets available from blueorangetheatre.co.uk or 0121 212 2643

Plan-9

 

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Trivial Pursuit

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

Blue Orange Theatre, Friday 29th April, 2016

 

Oscar Wilde’s comic masterpiece is a challenge for any group.  The wordy, witty epigrams in which the characters converse take a certain kind of delivery, to make them sound fresh and clear with their ‘punchlines’ sharp.  Does this new production at the Blue Orange deliver?

Yes.

From the off, Harvey Bassett’s exuberant Algernon amuses, in his powder blue suit and his upper-class-twit accent – it’s not overdone, thank goodness, and works brilliantly.  Bassett manages to get his lines out through a mouthful of cucumber sandwich.  It takes a while longer to warm to Benjamin Darlington’s Jack – a tightly wound characterisation, he could blow a fuse at any second – but he maintains his energy throughout and delivers a comically expressive performance of a man a hair’s breadth from a panic attack.

Karen Whyte’s Gwendolen is also a rounded and sustained comic creation: a minx, using her height to show she can be as imperious as her mother.  There are some exquisite moments with Megan Strachan’s perky Cicely that are superbly timed.  As the formidable Lady Bracknell, Elizabeth Bracknell looks and sounds the part but she needs to take care that lines, some of them rather convoluted, don’t fizzle out and lose their impact.

As the dotty Miss Prism, Jennifer Rigby plays it broad – and gets a lot of laughs – but for me it’s the hard-working and versatile Neville Cann who both takes and, as Merriman, brings the cake!  Appearing as two butlers (his Lane is a lugubrious delight) and as the cleric Dr Chasuble (a set-up involving some quick changes) he gives a model lesson in how to deliver Wilde.

Ian Craddock’s simple set design is adaptable to suggest the locations of each of the three acts but it’s Simon Ravenhill’s costumes that evoke the end of the 19th century.  On the whole, director Oliver Hume paces the action well, and there are some hilarious moments of comic business, touches of physical comedy to offset the verbal fireworks, although I feel some of the ideas are a little too large for the Blue Orange’s intimate space: the collective gasps at the revelations in the final act, for example – I am nit-picking perhaps; this is a really enjoyable evening’s entertainment, with Wilde’s wit effervescently delivered by a charming company.

A frothy confection of a play that tickles the ribs throughout, with many laugh-out-loud moments, The Importance of Being Earnest remains one of the funniest plays ever written, a celebration of the trivialities of life, and is satisfyingly presented in this small-scale and effective production.

earnest

Earnest bunch: The Cast