Tag Archives: Susan Harrison

Cobblers

TIMPSON The Musical

The Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Thursday 4th April, 2019

 

This isn’t the first musical to mine Romeo & Juliet for material, but it’s certainly the funniest.  The setting, such as it is, is Victorian London.  Two rival businesses both alike in indignity, one mending shoes, the other making keys, give rise to a pair of young lovers.  You know the rest – or you might think you do.  The plot takes a few swerves along the way to its resolution: the union of the two families and the formation of the High Street business we all know, the shop where you can get your shoes mended and your keys cut.  Yes, this is the world of the Montashoes and the Keypulets.

Writer-director-performer Sam Cochrane, the driving force behind the project, comes and goes as a range of characters, from a talking portrait to a winsome maid.  He is aided and abetted by versatile maniac Alex Prescot, who seems indefatigably energetic in his quickly-changing portrayals, in an irresistible performance.  I fell for him at once.

James Stirling is bluffly bombastic as Master Keypulet, the Machiavellian patriarch, contrasting with Susan Harrison’s diminutive dipsomaniac Lady Montashoe.  Madeleine Gray is hilariously histrionic as Monty, the Romeo figure, while Sabrina Messer’s Keeleigh (the Juliet) is simply sublime.  Messer can belt out heartfelt numbers and then within the space of a semiquaver, drop into a deadpan aside, forever undermining any emotive content the show might have.  She is delightful, to put it mildly.

It’s a good job there is no scenery to speak of, because this lot would be chewing it.  The acting style is over-the-top-and-a-half, the jokes come thick and fast.  Even the songs are laced with daftness with the onstage trio of musicians (Sophie Walker, Dan Hester and MD Lewis Bell) joining in proceedings.  Those songs, with lyrics by Sam Cochrane and Chris Baker, and music by Tom Slade and Theo Caplan, cover a range of styles and are all fabulously entertaining.  They are performed with gusto by the cast – even the choreography, by Ellie Fitz-Gerald is bloody silly. And they all keep instep!

This tale of cobbler meets key-maker is cutting edge (heh) and performed with sole (heh heh) and is a shoe-in to get tongues wagging.  This show has the power to heel… I’ll stop now.

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Alex Prescot and Madeleine Gray

 

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Back in the hood

ROBIN HOOD AND MARIAN

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Saturday 28th November, 2015

 

The Christmas show at the New Vic is invariably a highlight of the season and yet again director Theresa Heskins hits the bullseye with her own adaptation of the Robin Hood legend.

It begins with the wedding of Robert of Loxley to Marian Fitzwater, but the ceremony is interrupted; there’s a bit of a barney resulting in Robert being dispossessed and Marian being repossessed – he becomes an outlaw and she becomes a ward of the evil Prince John. The outlaw gathers friends and followers, with familiar episodes along the way: for example, meeting Little John for the first time – a fast and furious fight on a rope bridge that is economically, and therefore effectively, staged.

As Robin Hood, Isaac Stanmore manages to be dashing while keeping things down to earth. He’s an ordinary man driven to extraordinary things by his conscience rather than a thigh-slapping aristocrat. Heskins’s Marian is Robin’s equal in all things – in fact, it is often she who saves him from peril. Crystal Condie brings confidence and feminine ferocity – Marian is no tom-boy but her murderous asides revealing what she’d like to do to Prince John are vivid in their imagery. You would not like to cross her.

Perry Moore makes a marvellous and credible villain as the unmanly Prince. He strives to assert himself and come out from under his mother’s wing, while being imperious and cruel. His love for Marian redeems him – a little bit, and Moore is in good voice for both his proclamations and his solo number. As his overbearing mother Queen Eleanor, Charlotte Palmer would not be out of place in a Disney fairy tale.

David Kirkbride’s Little John brings humour as well as brawn, while there is something of Robin’s dashing drive in Jonathan Charles’s Sheriff – he is Robin on the Dark Side, you might say. Susan Harrison is a feisty Young Much and Liam Gerrard an assured Will Scarlet, and I very much enjoyed Bryn Holding as Tuck. Heskins’s script gives the characters plenty to do, and the actors space to establish themselves. They’re a hard-working bunch – if they’re not in a scene, holding a tree, or operating a puppet, they’re in the tiny pit playing live music.

And such music! James Atherton’s scores are always wonderful but he has excelled himself this time. There is medieval colouring to it, with flute, drums and strings, and there is something cinematic in the underscoring of moments of action and of emotion. The songs have a hint of Sondheim to them, catchy and sophisticated. Beautiful. I crave a recording!

Lis Evans’s costumes are colourful without being pantomime, and Laura Clarkson’s set of stark branches and stony outcrops evokes both forest and castle. The fights, up close and in the round, are electrifying. Directed by Philip d’Orleans, whether it’s hand-to-hand, with swords, knives or what-have-you, the violence seems both heightened and real – characters lives’ are affected by the outcomes. This is not knockabout or slapstick in any way. There is a moment of slow-motion before the fights break out, like the tension of pulling back a bowstring before the arrow is released. Exciting!

Heskins covers a lot of ground in her intelligent and accessible script. The show doesn’t talk down to the audience and is flavoured with plenty of medieval-sounding vocabulary (insults especially) and syntax to give the piece authenticity. The central ensemble is fleshed out by a well-disciplined team of local children, and some beautifully crafted puppets: the birds of prey have a scene to themselves in which they discuss gender roles – it’s one of the play’s central messages but because it’s puppets it doesn’t seem preachy. Elsewhere this message is delivered very clearly via action.

The title might lead you to think it’s about the central relationship between the two leads but it’s not. Robin and Marian are equals, fighting together against injustice and oppression. I find myself surprisingly moved, not by a love story, but by the call-to-arms to give the poor and needy a better deal. Heskins’s masterstroke is the inclusion of Magna Carta into proceedings, with King John rebranding himself (a little) in order to secure his place in history. It strikes a chord: we could do with a Robin or Marian figure these days to bring our current government to account for the very same reasons.

An exciting, fresh and relevant take on the legend, Robin Hood and Marian has plenty for everyone to enjoy.

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