Tag Archives: SUzanne Ahmet

With Flying Colours

PETER PAN IN SCARLET

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Tuesday 26th July, 2016

 

Theresa Heskins adapts and directs this world premiere: the first stage version of the ‘official’ sequel to J M Barrie’s classic.  The novel, by Geraldine McCaughrean, takes Barrie’s world and characters and moves them on, away from the innocent times of playing in an Edwardian nursery.  The world has changed.  It’s not so much that Wendy and John have grown up but the world has too.  The First World War has changed and tainted things forever.  It is suggested that their brother Michael (the little one with the teddy bear) was killed in action.

And so the entire piece is permeated with sadness and a sense of loss, alleviated in part by the exuberance of the cast and the infectiously jaunty score by composer and M.D. (and genius) James Atherton.  1920s jazz informs the aesthetic and members of the cast reveal themselves to be virtuosi on a range of instruments.  Jonathan Charles’s Slightly gives a star turn on the clarinet – and special mention goes to Natasha Lewis for her raunchy trombone.

The plot is action-packed.  Wendy and John recruit some of the Lost Boys for a return visit to Neverland, following a series of nightmares.  The play opens with one of these, a recap of the demise of Captain Hook – Andrew Pollard has never looked more dashing and debonair.  In order to fly back, the grown-up children hatch a fairy (New Vic favourite Michael Hugo being delightfully funny as Fireflyer) for a handy supply of dust, and don their own children’s clothes in order to be children again.  A strong theme is that clothes make man – you are what you wear, as Gok Wan would have it.  There is some truth in this idea of life as a game of dressing-up, but I’d add that it’s also how people react to the clothes we wear that shapes our behaviour. When Pan puts on an old red pirate coat, he takes on the unpleasant characteristics of his former nemesis.  Clothes make Pan.

Isaac Stanmore (formerly Dracula and Robin Hood) returns as another New Vic leading man and brings out Pan’s never-ending supply of youthful energy.  He also delivers the changes to Pan’s nature as the coat takes over, becoming a nasty-minded tyrant before our very eyes.  Perry Moore is also a returning player; this time he’s John, shedding his grown-up stuffiness for a more boyish, adventurous personality.  Rebecca Killick’s Wendy is fun and assertive without being the bossy little madam she is sometimes shown to be.  Suzanne Ahmet cuts a dash as Tootles, a doctor who has to borrow his daughter’s clothes – notions of gender identity are teased at – and Mei Mac exudes energy as Tinkerbell.  The mighty Andrew Pollard creates a creepy and compelling presence as the friendly but sinister Ravello, wraithlike and charming.

The whole cast must be absolutely knackered, with all the running around, physicality and, of course, the flying – here portrayed by climbing up lengths of silk and bringing to mind the New Vic’s production of Peter Pan a few years ago, which was the most beautiful and moving version of the story I have ever seen.  There are moments of beauty here too, with the silks, the sails, the lighting (designed by Daniella Beattie) – and I am struck by how bloody good the sound design is; James Earls-Davis works wonders in this arena setting to give us a cinematic soundtrack that is finely focussed, helping us to follow the action, which at times can be very busy and frenetic.  Theresa Heskins employs some of her trademark tricks – maps are ‘thrown’ across the stage, fights are carried out across a distance, softening the violence in one way, making it all the clearer in another – and her well of theatrical invention seems never to run dry.  The result is a charming if melancholic experience, rich with ideas and played to perfection.  The show only suffers from a lack of audience familiarity with the material.  We wonder where it’s going rather than wonder at it.  But then, Peter Pan was new once too.

pan in scarlet

Suits you, sir. Ravello (Andrew Pollard) helps Pan (Isaac Stanmore) into his scarlet coat, while Fireflyer (Michael Hugo) looks on, aghast. (Photo: Geraint Lewis)

 

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Theatrical Gold

HOARD

New Vic Theatre, Tuesday 7th July, 2015

 

The discovery of buried treasure now known as the Staffordshire Hoard is a fascinating story on its own but the ever-ambitious New Vic Theatre has gone further, unearthing a wealth of creativity and imagination in this festival inspired by the find.

There’s such a lot going on: exhibitions, installations, drama – there’s a dozen five-minute treats called ‘table plays’, where actors mingle in the bar (nothing innovative there!) and address small audiences with monologues and storytelling.  I caught four of the twelve, each one a distinctive jewel.  In Half A Horse by Isy Suttie, a woman (Paula James) searches for her lover who has left her with half of a horse-brooch as a token. It’s funny, down-to-earth and sweet.  In The Foreigner by Lydia Adetunji, Suzanne Ahmet speaks a garnet’s point of view, recounting its ‘life story’ in a beautiful piece of writing, magnetically performed.  David Semark and Johnson Willis perform a potted Beowulf but it’s getting too rowdy in the bar as playgoers continue to arrive.  There’s no such problem with Out of the Dark: The Hoard Speaks, which takes place in an alcove behind a curtain.  A cast of three (David Crellin, Perry Moore and Adam Morris) pore over runic symbols, their faces lit from below by candles.  It’s mesmerising and intimate – the rich words by Alan Garner of Owl Service and Brisingamen fame.  This one turns out to be my favourite (of the four I’ve seen); it’s like going back in time.

To the main business of the evening and the first of a double bill of plays.

THE THRONE by Frazer Flintham

The New Vic’s resident genius Theresa Heskins directs this present-day comedy, set in a Staffordshire pub.  Landlord Sid (David Crellin) and best customer Cliff (David Nellist) play a practical joke on upper class Gordon (Adam Morris), a bit of a smoothie who claims to be a ‘ghost receiver’.  He has a global following on the internet.  The prank misfires and Gordon looks to be made even wealthier by what he finds buried in a field.

It’s a lot of fun, thanks to a likeable script that has more bathos than a Victoria Wood special, and the affectionate depiction of the characters.  David Crellin is spot on as the affable landlord; Gwawr Loader makes a chirpy barmaid, and Elizabeth Elvin is monstrously funny as pretentious and catty Pam.  There is amusing support from Perry Moore as a local news reporter with a dicky tummy.

Cliff has worked in the local toilet factory for 25 years and it falls to him to make the play’s key point: it’s not kings or trinkets that matter, it’s the working men and women who put the king on the throne, who crafted the jewels and fine objects.  Without the working class, the upper class would be nowhere.  It’s a powerful moment without labouring the point.

As Gordon, Adam Morris smarms and charms it up, playing to (web)camera.  It’s traditional stuff: the lower orders making fun of the toffs, and it’s perfectly pitched and highly entertaining.

LARKSONG by Chris Bush

Set in the hoard’s Anglo-Saxon past, this piece is less immediately accessible.  There is a clash of styles at work here.  There is choric speaking where the language is lyrical and alliterative, much like Anglo-Saxon verse and there is some very (perhaps too) modern dialogue that doesn’t quite go with the period setting.  The play would seem less fractured if it picked one style and ran with it.

It tells the story of a group who appropriate a load of valuables but don’t know what to do with it.  It seems their every option will trigger conflict and bloodshed.  It’s an interesting look at how the hoard might have come to be where it ended up but where it works best for me is with its reflections on an earlier bygone era.  The end of the Roman civilisation plunged Europe into the dark ages, a kind of post-apocalyptic society, it seems.

As Lark, Crystal Condie sings beautifully and there is some pleasing interplay between the characters who are all named after creatures.  Romayne Andrews is Mouse, Johnson Willis is Mole, a goldsmith, and Perry Moore is Weasel – I can’t help thinking of Wind in the Willows.   What comes across is that although circumstances have changed, people essentially have not – and I think that’s the point of this festival as a whole. It’s not about the treasures, it’s about people and history and mortality.  Larksong, directed by Gemma Fairlie, has some striking moments rather than being uniformly brilliant throughout.

I’m looking forward to going back to the New Vic soon and seeing some more.

Pictured are cast members Adam Morris as Gordon and Bryonie Pritchard as Peggy (middle) surrounded by cast looking at hoard.

Pictured are cast members Adam Morris as Gordon and Bryonie Pritchard as Peggy (middle) surrounded by cast looking at hoard.

 

 


All the Stage’s a World

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Friday 19th April, 2013

Phileas Fogg cuts a dashing but aloof figure as he makes his way from bed to gentlemen’s club, in an empty routine of a life that runs like clockwork.  Theresa Heskins’s marvellous production begins with an amusing sequence set to James Atherton’s evocative music, establishing a physical theatricality to the piece from the off.  Fogg employs a new servant in the form of wiry and gregarious Frenchman, Jean Passepartout – this latter is seeking a quiet life but his engagement coincides with a rather silly and extravagant wager Fogg has with some of his whist-playing chums at the club.  And so we see where pub talk can lead!

The floor is a map of the world – a thing of beauty in itself.  Around the walls behind sections of the audience hang maps of the continents through which the action travels.  Actors clamber over seats and spectators to slap arrows on the maps to chart Fogg’s progress.  This device, along with a couple of performance spaces among the seating, brings the audience into the action.  The New Vic has never felt more intimate and yet so…global.

We rattle through Europe on trains made from trunks and suitcases.  The cast quickly change hats from berets to straw boaters to fezzes to provide local colour, bobbing about in their seats to convey the motion of the train.  Travel by boat is similarly suggested.  Actors and railings sway in unison – you almost find yourself joining in.  The show is full of fun theatrical ideas.  Theresa Heskins has gathered a creative and agile ensemble, wisely incorporating their ideas with her own to create a show of dazzling invention and wit.  There is also another level to the silly cleverness. The show acknowledges its own artifices and celebrates them: for example in a scene on deck between Passepartout and Mr Fix, the actors sway chairs and a table to maintain the context of sea travel, but they also have a scene to play out – they negotiate their way around the furniture making sure the rhythm is never lost.  But then, Fix is left alone to keep it going – we are in the scene and yet out of it.  It’s “meta” (as the trendies say) but above all delightful.

At the centre of it all is Andrew Pollard as cold fish Fogg, who (thanks to a running joke and sleight of hand) travels the world throwing his money around.  His height marks him out as a beacon of Englishness and decency.  His urgency is not motivated by financial gain but by pride; he has a point to prove and risks losing everything to make that point.  Stubborn is another word for it.  Keeping his nose in his book of timetables or his hand of cards, he is travelling the world but is not in the world.

As Passepartout, Michael Hugo treats us to another display of his superior clowning.  Every move he makes, every facial expression is spot on, calculated to maximise the humour of the situations.  It’s all larger-than-life but never over-the-top.  His experience in an opium den is remarkable slapstick from first puff of the pipe to passing out and then coming to and trying to drag his intoxicated body offstage. It’s a breathtaking performance and that’s before I even mention his French accent which manages to be broad and funny without exaggerating to Clouseau or Allo Allo proportions.  I didn’t need the reminder but he showed me again why he is my favourite actor.

Dennis Herdman’s Inspector Fix is an excellent foil for Passepartout.  A fine physical comedian, he and Hugo engage in a fist-fight at long distance, a hilarious device that diffuses the violence into cartoon capers.  There’s also a brawl in a temple – the funniest martial arts combat you will ever see.

The supporting players work their socks off, hardly ever off-stage, and playing up to 30 parts each, in this fast-moving romp across continents.  Okorie Chukwu impresses with his acrobatic skills as well as his characterisations.  Suzanne Ahmet, Matt Connor and Pushpinder Chani change accents as quickly as they change their outfits; they are a metaphor for the clockwork precision with which Fogg lives his life.  The action flows seamlessly from place to place; you’d think the cast was much larger than it actually is, helped along by James Atherton’s charming score, which is evocative of place and also the passage of time.

Fogg looks up from his book long enough to realise a woman needs rescuing and so, courtesy of an astounding  but simple appearance of an elephant, the beautiful  and elegant Mrs Aouda (Kirsten Foster) is saved and becomes his travelling companion for the rest of the journey.  From this point, Fogg is more in-the-moment, problem-solving and using up his resources to achieve his ends.  It’s not saying if you’re rich you can do anything you want.  When Fogg is on the brink of ruin, Mrs Aouda proposes marriage.  She wants the man not the money.  Fogg learns that life is to be experienced and not read about and is rewarded with someone with whom to live it.  This is a message to all those of us who keep our eyes on our phones, viewing experiences through camera apps rather than experiencing them first hand.

You haven’t got 80 days to see this exhilarating production.  I suggest you make Fogg-like exertions to get there.  Already I’m thinking this is the best show of the year.

80days

Trained actors Andrew Pollard and Michael Hugo