Tag Archives: Steven Blakeley

Beat off

HEARTBEAT

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Tuesday 12th April, 2016

 The much-loved TV series, a staple of Sunday night viewing for 18 years, is resurrected in the form of this touring production, a kind of extended episode featuring two members of the original cast.  I must confess I never watched an episode of it in its entirety but I was aware of what it was about.  It’s a kind of Western but set in North Yorkshire.  Just as Westerns give a nostalgic view of an America that never was, Heartbeat does the same for England.

Much of the action takes place in the saloon – the Aidensfield Arms.  There is the sheriff in his white hat (here a constable in his police helmet) shepherding the locals and defending them from outlaws and outsiders.  As the lawman, tall, dark and arrestingly handsome Matt Milburn looks and sounds the part, making the most of a two-dimensional role.  Carly Cook is Scouse barmaid Gina, dealing with the incompetent pint-pulling skills of her part-time staff, the local undertaker Bernie Scripps (David Horne, working hard to bring some decent character work to a lacklustre script).

PC Geoff Younger (Steven Blakeley) and David Stockwell (David Lonsdale) get big cheers to welcome them onto the stage.  Everyone else recognises them from the telly and it appears they can do no wrong.  Clearly much adored, the hapless constable and the bumbling bungler deserve better than the sub-panto sequences they are obliged to perform.  As the play goes on, their scenes become increasingly bizarre, with an arch-theatricality that is at odds with the rest of the show.  There’s a running joke of Stockwell’s dog (which also gets a cheer) being a stuffed toy; a grave-digging scene remarks on the hardness of the floor… Suddenly we’re in Emmerdale as written by Samuel Beckett.   People lap it up, delighted to see the actors and their characters.  I feel like I’ve stumbled across some kind of laughing cult.  If original series heartthrob Nick Berry had walked on, the theatre would have exploded.

Trouble comes to the village in the form of The Troubles, when mysterious young Irishman Aidan McGuire (Callum O’Neill) arrives, pursued by mysterious Special Branch officer James Sheedy (Jason Griffiths).  One of these two is up to no good.  After a first act in which nothing happens several times, the play improves considerably in the second half when a standoff arises in the pub and moral ambiguity comes into this otherwise simplistic story.  Scenes between McGuire, Sheedy and their hostage Gina the barmaid stand out, but just as the tension is cranking up, the set revolves for the umpteenth time and the surreal comedy stylings of the copper and the poacher puncture it.

The play would work better on stage if the action was confined solely to the pub.  Griffiths is strong as the duplicitous detective, and O’Neill evokes both suspicion and sympathy – even if his accent takes a tour of almost every country to enter the Eurovision Song Contest.

Of course, it comes as no surprise that Matt Milburn saves the day and their version of normalcy is restored.

The production is hampered by clumsy sound cues – at times the sound effects and the music drown out the dialogue, and scenic video, showing us the beautiful Yorkshire landscape, stutters, giving us day during a night scene and the same flock of birds flying in formation on a loop.  It’s almost like a tech rehearsal rather than a production that’s well into its nationwide tour.

I can’t say I’m inspired to watch repeats of the series on ITV3.  For me, this Heartbeat flatlined.

matt milburn

Making my heart beat, Matt Milburn as PC Joe Malton

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Sights and Sounds of the 60s

THE PRIVATE EAR, THE PUBLIC EYE

Malvern Theatres, Wednesday 25th September, 2013

Peter Shaffer, best known as the writer of Amadeus and Equus, penned this brace of one-act plays at the outset of the Swinging 60s.  The inestimable Original Theatre Company follow their barnstorming production of Birdsong with this radical change of pace, and what we get is a couple of hours of well-presented comedy-drama that bear up rather well after 50 years.

The Private Ear

Ted (Rupert Hill) dances into best mate Bob’s bedsit to do his friend a favour: Bob has a girl coming around for a meal and Ted has been enlisted as chef – well, someone’s got to open the cans of soup and marrowfat peas.  Ted is a man of the age, with his polo neck sweater and his sharp suit.  He is all patter and obviously does very well with ‘the birds’ and their ‘bristols’.  Rupert Hill gets Ted’s energy just right and when he confesses to being a Tory, we are not surprised.  What’s dismaying is how current his deplorable views are (strongly anti-union, for example) and what is very telling is how he tempers his views in order to impress Doreen (the ‘bird’) – to win her vote, you could say.  By contrast, Bob is skinny and socially awkward.  We first see him in his vest and pants and dressing-gown as he frets about his impending date.  Steven Blakeley keeps Bob on the right side of tolerability, letting his passion for classical music override his gawkiness.  His scenes with Siobhan O’Kelly’s Doreen are delightful and it is here amid moments of physical comedy, Shaffer surprises us with Bob’s heartfelt exposition on the human condition, that we weren’t made to look at entries in ledgers all day, were not built for the repetitive nature of our jobs.

The Public Eye

Before our very eyes, both Blakeley and the set are transformed before the second play can get under way.  At this moment our appreciation of Hayley Grindle’s design is doubled.  It’s an ingenious transition that reminds us of the artifice of what is going on.  Blakeley becomes private detective Julian Cristoforou, a sort of Inspector Clouseau figure in appearance.  He has been hired by Charles Sidley (Jasper Britton) to follow Mrs Sidley (Siobhan O’Kelly) whom he suspects of having an affair.  Cristoforou appears at Sidley’s office to give his report.  What unfolds is slightly absurd and bordering on the farcical.  While Blakeley and O’Kelly are equally good, this piece is dominated by Jasper Britton’s well-observed Sidley, with his double takes and blustering – the comic timing is perfect.  Director Alastair Whatley keeps energy levels high so that Shaffer’s pieces, which alone might seem little more than extended comic sketches, presented together give us a look back at the views and social mores of a different time, attitudes that are alien and familiar in equal measure.  There are subtle links between the two pieces, helping to unify the evening. All four actors give well-honed characterisations but for me it is Britton’s Sidley that stands out, as a man forced to change his ways in order to save his marriage.  The double bill is worth seeing for the quality of its performances and presentation but also for hints at the greatness this playwright was to go on and create.

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