REHEARSAL FOR MURDER
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Monday 9th May, 2016
The whodunit is a staple of the touring theatre circuit. We enjoy trying to puzzle out the identity of the killer – there is pleasure in being proved right and, if wrong, there is admiration for the writer and the production that has led us so merrily up the garden path. In this respect, David Rogers’s adaptation of a story by Ricard Levinson and William Link (the writers of Murder, She Wrote, no less) is no different from others doing the rounds. How it differs, how it sets itself apart from and above most of the rest, is with a sophisticated structure and a truly clever conceit that, I readily admit, I didn’t twig.
Set in an empty theatre (shades of The Woman in Black) playwright Alex Dennison (Robert Daws) sets up for a reading of his latest work. It’s all a ruse to unmask the murderer of his fiancée, the actress Monica Welles (Amy Robbins) a year ago. The cast assembles and through a series of flashbacks, Dennison narrates events of that fateful night and then stages new scenes, hoping to catch the conscience of the killer. He has a police officer ready-planted in the stalls…
As mastermind Dennison, Daws owns the stage, able to drop out of narrator mode into some highly-charged emotional scenes. Amy Robbins brings old-school glamour to the role of the ill-fated Monica, while Robert Duncan is good fun as irrepressible old luvvie David Mathews. Susan Penhaligon is enjoyable as Bella, the overbearing producer, delivering some of the show’s best lines with relish. Steven Pinder is good as neurotic director Lloyd, and there are energetic performances from Ben Nealon as the ‘juvenile’ Leo Gibbs and Lucy Dixon as ‘ingenue’ Karen Daniels. It’s all slightly larger-than-life and on the leeward side of camp, making for an enjoyable watch and an intriguing mystery. Despite being told from the off, we are going to be deceived, I genuinely don’t see the reveal coming.
Roy Marsden directs with an assured hand. The sophisticated structure is handled with clarity and style, making for a delightful evening and a fresh take on a popular genre, expertly performed by a likeable ensemble.
Calling the shots: Robert Daws
Leave a comment | tags: Amy Robbins, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Ben Nealon, David Rogers, Lucy Dixon, Rehearsal For Murder, review, Richard levinson, Robert Daws, Robert Duncan, Roy Marsden, Steven Pinder, Susan Penhaligon, William Link | posted in Theatre Review
THE MEMORY OF WATER
New Vic Theatre, Friday 7th March, 2014
The New Vic’s revival of Shelagh Stephenson’s 1996 play is a beautifully presented, tightly acted production. The sharpness of the writing has the characters throwing wit and sarcasm at each other – sometimes the barbed comments hit home and open cans of worms.
Three sisters of different ages and temperaments gather at their recently deceased mother’s house for the funeral. Mum herself is still knocking around, appearing to middle daughter Mary in fantasy/dream/memory sequences full of recriminations and accusations. Having a ghost in a play is as old as drama itself, of course, but the focus here is not on the apparition but the lingering pain of memory and things unspoken or old ground trodden over repeatedly. As dead woman Vi, Lynn Farleigh cuts an elegant figure and is far from the aloof and distant figure Mary remembers. The play has a theme of the unreliability of memory running through it like words through a stick of seaside rock – Mary is even a doctor with a patient suffering from trauma-induced amnesia, to strengthen this motif. Each daughter remembers a different childhood, although none of them is accurate. They trigger memories in each other but they are unsure who had the starring role in each misremembered incident.
It’s a very funny play. As eldest and most bitter sister Teresa, Mary-Jo Randle is a mixture of strength and fragility, both of which are exacerbated by her intake of whisky. She is hilarious and compelling. Caroline Langrishe is Mary, who speaks ‘properly’ as befits her profession, combining an authoritative tone with vulnerability. She snipes defensively – her affair with married man Mike (Paul Opacic) comes under more strain with the impending funeral. Langrishe, especially in her scenes with mother’s ghost, is excellent – but then, this is an excellent cast. Director Nikolai Foster gets multi-faceted performances from them and handles their contrasts and contradictions expertly.
Amanda Ryan is a treat as uninhibited youngest sister Catherine, prone to too much retail therapy, pot-smoking and continental boyfriends. She brings her sisters down to her level and they become like three children bickering, or having a laugh dressing up in their mother’s frocks. The men (Mary’s boyfriend and Teresa’s husband) are secondary figures but each has his moment. Steven Pinder is first-rate as long-suffering Frank, bemused most of the time, until he reaches the end of his tether, and Paul Opacic does well to convince as attractive but unlikable two-timing Mike.
It all takes place on an attractive set by designer takis, atmospherically lit by Ben Cracknell, surrounded by snow and frost. The coldness of the outside world is kept at bay by the warmth of family ties and the heat of family conflict.
Entertaining and emotive, The Memory of Water shows yet again the high quality of the work being produced at the New Vic. Well worth the journey every time.
1 Comment | tags: review, Newcastle under Lyme, theatre review, New Vic Theatre, Caroline Langrishe, Nikolai Foster, The Memory of Water, takis, Ben Cracknell, Amanda Ryan, Steven Pinder, Paul Opacic, Mary-Jo Randle, Shelagh Stephenson, Lynn Farleigh | posted in Theatre Review