Tag Archives: Teresa Ludovico

Tall Story

THE B F G

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 2nd December, 2014

 

The REP’s big Christmas show this year is David Wood’s adaptation of a Roald Dahl novel – not one of his strongest but containing the quintessential elements of a Dahl classic nevertheless: horrible villains, a downtrodden but virtuous child protagonist, nonsensical words, and some scary moments.

Director Teresa Ludovico throws everything at the stage in the first act to bring Giant Country to life, with music, movement, masks and mime… There are circus skills and gigantic legs and hands – it’s like a bonkers Italian variety show rather the traditional fare and it works!  Especially in the transmission of the darkness and horror that runs through Dahl’s slender tale.

Lara Wollington (a former Matilda) is excellent as perky orphan Sophie.  Abducted by a giant (in a terrifying sequence) she soon befriends him and he reveals he’s not like other giants in that he refuses to eat the flesh of human children.  Weirdo.  Shunned by his peers, he faces the type of scorn and derision usually doled out to Vegans by meat-eating brutes.  Wollington is nothing short of perfect in the role.  She has a strong, clear and expressive voice, bags of energy and performs the quirky, jerky, sometimes balletic, movements with ease and ability.

In his Frankenstein footwear and waistcoat this Big Friendly Giant looks like a lecturer from Middle Earth Polytechnic but Joshua Manning fulfils this tall order superbly well, making the titular character a likeable sort and managing the mangled language with ease.  He may not be all that B of a G but he is certainly F.  With the aid of sound effects and the clever use of perspective, he stomps around, leading his new little friend through a series of moments, each of them beautifully staged by a talented and versatile ensemble, who will backflip as soon as look at you.

It’s all gloriously theatrical, a cavalcade of the performing arts, and carried off with such brio you are willing to overlook the fact that it’s largely padding to eke out the story until the interval.

In the second act we move from Giant Country to Buckingham Palace and the bedroom of Her Majesty the Queen of England.  Here, Sophie does a Michael Fagan, breaking in to warn Her Maj of impending giant-sized disaster.  Mike Goodenough’s Queen may resemble Benny Hill more than that lady off of the postage stamps but he’s more than good enough – a restrained panto dame who gets the funniest lines, which he delivers with pouting relish.

The other giants are left (largely) to the imagination and this makes them all the scarier..  Huge shadows are thrown across the backdrop and sometimes hands and feet appear.  It’s what we don’t see that scares us and talk of bones found outside an orphanage is particularly gruesome.

Hats off to the technical team.  Set and costume designer Robert Innes Hopkins, along with lighting by Peter Mumford, gives the piece a dreamscape quality, with mists and shadows contrasted with bursts of vibrant colour.  Frank Moon and Martin Riley’s unconventional score is played live under the musical direction of Riley himself on keyboards.  Percussionist Tom Chapman and guitarist Tom Durham are accompanied at various points by cast members on a range of instruments.  It all adds to the atmosphere and above all the fun.

Stylish and surreal, this BFG is an enjoyable alternative to the usual pantomimes on offer, a theatrical banquet with plenty to satisfy everyone.

Lara Wollington and Joshua Manning (Photo: Robert Day)

Lara Wollington and Joshua Manning (Photo: Robert Day)

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Rat’s Tale

I WAS A RAT!

The Old Rep, Birmingham, Saturday 2nd March, 2013

 

Philip Pullman’s enchanting story is brought to life in this adaptation for the stage by Teresa Ludovico, who also directs.  The story has a fairytale feel and there are also elements of Oliver Twist and Pinocchio.  It begins when a peaceful evening of sharing stories from the newspaper (Bob and Joan reminded me of a West Indian Meg and Petey in Pinter’s The Birthday Party) is interrupted by the unexpected arrival of a boy, dressed as a footman.  The boy has a peculiar type of amnesia.  He can only claim “I was a rat!” and knows nothing of table manners or the wide world in general.  The old couple consult a range of authorities: legal, medical, educational, before deciding they will adopt the strange boy for themselves.  Except it is too late.  Trouble at school means the boy, now named Roger, goes on the run.  The media – namely a newspaper called the Daily Scourge – stirs up public opinion against him, and before long people are in fear of the ‘monster’ among them.  Roger falls in with the wrong sorts (circus folk and criminals) and is captured and put on trial for his life.

It’s fast-moving, inventive fun with the emphasis on the agility and versatility of the performers, who dash around and move like a commedia dell’arte troupe, using grotesque masks and mime to enhance their physicalisation of a range of characters.   Tyrone Huggins and Lorna Gayle are endearing as the caring old married couple, not too old to have a snowball fight when the mood takes them.  Christopher Dingli amuses as the bureaucratic stickler in City Hall, Dodger Phillips is a grotesque dame as ringmaster’s wife Mrs Tapscrew, complete with a frock that resembles the big top; and Jack Jones is hilarious as Mrs Cribbins.  This is not a show about subtlety and is all the better for it.  TJ Holmes’s Philosopher Royal brings a touch of the Absurd, rather like Alice’s Caterpillar with his musings and pronouncements.  Menace comes from Joey Hickman’s burglar Billy.

There is no scenery: spaces are delineated by lighting.  High chairs are wheeled on and off for characters of high status.  The cast mime most of the props while helpful hands appear from the wings to provide sound effects.  It all seems simple but it’s inventive and above all, theatrical.  David Watson’s English version of the script has more than a hint of satire to it.  As well as the overtly topical lines about the horsemeat scandal, there is a timely nudge to the brouhaha about the media’s portrayal of a ‘plastic princess’ (to borrow Hilary Mantel’s words) – the Princess Aurelia is a puppet, a disembodied manikin’s head with gloves and shoes!   It’s a witty script; a scene in the sewers gives a cheeky nod to Les Mis – there is as much to entertain the adults in the audience as the kids.

Luigi Spezzacatene’s costumes add to the fairytale-cum-Dickensian feel.  The police are flamboyantly Ruritanian. Even the police dog gets an extravagant uniform.  The rats are simply portrayed through movement but their flashlight eyes lend them an air of otherness.

The undoubted star of the piece is Fox Jackson-Keen as ex-rat Roger.  A charming portrayal of an innocent abroad in a wicked world on one hand; on the other, a dazzling display of dance and gymnastic, acrobatic ability.  His ‘circus act’s tops the show.

The happy ending is satisfying but so understated it lacks emotional punch;  nevertheless you will be hard-pressed to find a more energetically entertaining family show currently on the circuit.

Roger (Fox Jackson-Keen) is put through his paces by nasty circus owner Tapscrew (Christopher Dingli)

Roger (Fox Jackson-Keen) is put through his paces by nasty circus owner Tapscrew (Christopher Dingli)