Tag Archives: Sophie Stone

Gogol box

THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR

The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 23rd March, 2016

 

Nikolai Gogol’s comedy, a satire of Czarist Russia, is brought to exuberant life in this sparkling adaptation by David Harrower.  Director Roxana Silbert has gathered the most inclusive company I’ve ever seen: disabled and non-disabled actors, sign language users and interpreters, all appear side-by-side in this fast-moving, frenetic and farcical story of misunderstanding and mistaken identity.   Everyone is in costume and a character in their own right, rather than segregating interpreters in a spotlight at the side of the stage.  In fact, the expressive nature of signing lends itself very well to the heightened, exaggerated style of comic performance needed to keep Gogol’s balloons in the air.

Much of the show’s comic energy comes from one man.  David Carlyle is the manic Mayor of the little town expecting a visit from a government official.  Carlyle must be knackered by the interval – he’s certainly exhausting to watch and very, very funny.  His wife and daughter (Kiruna Stamell and Francesca Mills respectively) match him in terms of larger-than-life characterisations.  Stamell’s pretentious use of French words and phrases is a delight, as is Mills’s immature frustration.  Stephen Collins and Rachel Denning form a funny, Little and Large double act as Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky careering around the stage with a flair for physical comedy.  Sophie Stone amuses as the less-than-honest Postmaster and I particularly like Michael Keane’s starving servant Osip, whose master, the conniving opportunist Khlestakov is marvellously portrayed by Robin Morrissey.  Gogol lets us in on the joke from the off, allowing us to see Khlestakov’s cogs turning.  Jean St Clair’s Judge Lyapkin-Tyapkin is elegantly expressive and none-the-less funny – In fact, the entire company is unflagging in its efforts to maintain the show’s fast pace.  The laughs keep coming.

Ti Green’s skeletal set serves as all locations.  Much fun is made with the revolving door and I love the running joke of the lift with its muzak and prerecorded voice.  Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting adds to the humour, with some sharp changes to highlight the characters’ frantic asides.

Years ago I saw a production of this play that fell completely flat.  I am pleased to say this smart and snappy show has exorcised the ghost of that failure.  The playing is broad but detailed – Silbert overlooks nothing in order to wring as many laughs as possible from the situation, the script and her hard-working, talented cast.

The play exposes human foibles in all ranks of society.  Man is essentially corruptible, Gogol points out, putting us all in the same box.  Surely it can’t be relevant to us today.  Can it?  I rather believe it is.

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Master and servant: Robin Morrissey and Michael Keane (Photo: Robert Day)

 

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Chilling

FROZEN

The REP Studio, Birmingham, Monday 10th February, 2014

 

We are accustomed to seeing sign language interpreters at the side of the stage, translating plays for deaf audience members.  New theatre company fingersmiths give us much more than that in a way that enhances the performance for those of us fortunate to be able to hear.

Each of the three characters in Bryony Lavery’s 1998 play is portrayed by a pair of actors, one speaking, the other signing.  The result is more than translation.  Often the signer reveals the inner life of the speaker.  Sometimes the signs anticipate the words – it’s an intriguing psychological approach to a play that deals with the human mind, its workings and malfunctions.

And so we get parallel performances occupying the same space, but the actors are also linked, like shadows, like reflections, like twins.  It is absolutely captivating.

The play deals with the disappearance of a young girl and the subsequent arrest of a man charged with her abduction and murder.  As the girl’s mother, Hazel Maycock is superb, delivering monologues in an offhand, matter-of-fact fashion that Alan Bennett would kill for.  This serves to intensify the anguish of later, heart-rending speeches.  Equally powerful is Maycock’s signing counterpart, Jean St Clair.  By definition, the signers give a more expressive performance, as counterpoints to the naturalism of the speaking players.  It’s hypnotic.

Marvellous Mike Hugo is stunningly good as serial killer Ralph, convincing in his psychosis and outbursts of rage.  He and his signer Neil Fox-Roberts, have a sort of relationship, breaking the convention, interacting with each other, like a mind fractured in two, or like each other’s evil twin.

Sophie Stone and Deepa Shastri play brain expert Agnetha, whose professional swagger barely conceals anxiety and vulnerability.  Both convey the contrasts very well.

It’s a play about damaged lives and what damages them.  Lavery (and Hugo and Fox-Roberts) don’t give us a one-dimensional monster in the form of Ralph.  Neither is the mother just a mouthpiece for moral indignation.  Director Jeni Draper keeps us focussed throughout  what is largely a succession of monologues interspersed with a few scenes in which the characters interact.  Jo Paul’s set is minimalistic but versatile: one ingenious item of scenery serves as a table, a settee, a coffin and so on, allowing the action to move seamlessly from scene to scene.

An exploration of the darker side of human experience, Frozen is a gripping and absorbing piece of theatre, distressingly still relevant.  I look forward to seeing fingersmiths tackle their next piece – something comedic perhaps.  Please.

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