Tag Archives: Terry Johnson

Filthy Looker

THE LIBERTINE

Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, Thursday 13th October, 2016

 

In a prologue, John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, announces “You will not like me.”  It’s a warning and a challenge, but I’m sitting there looking at Dominic Cooper and thinking, Mate, I’m in love with you already.

Cooper oozes charm as the world-weary gadabout, womaniser and wit.  An easily compelling stage presence, he gives us an anti-hero we can’t help but admire.  He knocks around with a great bunch of lads: George Etherege (Mark Hadfield), Charles Sackville (a powdered-faced Richard Teverson) and young hanger-on Billy (Will Merrick), as they satirise their way through life, drinking and whoring and committing acts of vandalism.  They are men in wigs behaving badly.

When Wilmot encounters actress Elizabeth Barry, he experiences love for the first time.  He coaches her to success on the London stage but, as a lover, is an abject failure.  Ophelia Lovibond is the perfect foil for Wilmot’s excesses.  Prim, perky and ambitious, she stands out among these larger-than-life, rambunctious characters.  Also excellent is Jasper Britton as a debauched yet regal Charles II, and there is strong support from Lizzie Roper as down-to-earth stage manager Molly Luscombe, and Nina Toussaint-White as prostitute Jane.  I warm to Alice Bailey Johnson’s long-suffering Elizabeth – we see she is as she is, due to Wilmot’s treatment of her.  Cornelius Booth is good fun as haughty, mannered actor Harry Harris, and Will Barton is a hoot as lugubrious manservant Alcock.

Tim Shortall’s set of shabby brickwork, tarnished gilt and wooden boards evokes the theatre and decay.  Well-worn and tawdry in its faded glamour, it’s a great fit for the sumptuous auditorium of the Theatre Royal – it’s practically an immersive experience and I purchase both an orange and a kiss from an obliging wench.  Director Terry Johnson keeps the cast skipping through Stephen Jeffreys’s erudite script – it’s an easily accessible glimpse of the period.

Eventually, perhaps inevitably, Wilmot’s lifestyle catches up with him and he falls into physical decline.  He renounces the booze and his atheism, exchanging one addiction for another – pious devotion; having lived life like a firework display, he kind of fizzles out like a damp squib.

I kind of wish he’d gone to his grave, railing defiantly against it, like Don Giovanni dragged off to hell.  Perhaps the death bed makes believers of us all…

Nah.

This is a hugely enjoyable production, stylish and funny and sometimes obscene.  Dominic Cooper is in superb form (in every sense), a star turn among a constellation of supporting players.

'The Libertine' Play by Stephen Jeffreys performed at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London, UK

Dominic Cooper as The Earl of Rochester, Ophelia Lovibond as Elizabeth Barry ©Alastair Muir 27.09.16

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Comedy First Class

THE GRADUATE

The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 6th September, 2015

 

We are accustomed to seeing films adapted into stage shows these days, usually as musicals. Here, adaptor Terry Johnson turns the iconic film of the swinging 60s into a thoroughly enjoyable comedy of sexual mores.

Fresh out of college, Benjamin Braddock lacks direction in life. An encounter with the wife of his father’s friend leads to sexual liaisons in a hotel room. Mrs Robinson, however experienced, is not enough for young Ben, who craves conversation as well as rumpy-pumpy, and so he latches onto his lover’s daughter instead. Before long, the situation unravels and Ben decides to leave it all behind, but will Elaine go with him, and is marriage the happy-ever- after it’s cracked up to be?

Shaun Hartman is excellent as the stumbling, fumbling Ben, and he is well-matched by Sarah Ridgley as Elaine. Tiffany Cawthorne is flawless as the casually predatory Mrs Robinson, oozing self-assurance as well as boredom. Brendan Stanley is her husband, really coming into his own when the truth becomes known to him in the second act. We can sympathise with his hurt and sense of betrayal but also laugh at his psychotic hot-headedness.  Wanda Raven is hilarious as Ben’s excitable mother, and there is strong support from Helen Rose Carter in a number of roles, including a be-tassled stripper in a sleazy club. The mighty Colin Simmonds delivers a masterclass in comic timing as Ben’s bewildered father – his remarkable performance is worth the admission price alone, but he is surrounded by a company of highly effective actors who are too good to be upstaged. Director Keith Harris pitches every scene just right for maximum comic effect, allowing the dramatic moments to develop, and the simple but versatile set hints at the period rather than swamping us with detail. Similarly, Angela Daniels’s costumes are evocative, allowing the timeless qualities of the story to come to the fore.

Are we shocked today by Benjamin’s carrying-on? Not in the least but it’s interesting that included on the poster among the warnings of nudity and sexual activity is the advisement that herbal cigarettes will be smoked. This is how times have changed. (PS. Herbal cigarettes always stink the place out).

This production offers many delights: a funny script delivered with skill and panache. My one quibble is that some of the scene changes take a little long, adding to the running time, but because it’s early in the run, I’m sure the hard-working stage hands will pick up the pace.  Some scenes end suddenly, revealing the script’s cinematic origins – transitions need to be snappy to match.

Once again, the Crescent delivers the goods to an extremely high standard. The Graduate plays until September 12th and is well worth a couple of hours of your time.

graduate


Ducking and Diving

THE DUCK HOUSE

Festival Theatre, Malvern, Tuesday 5th November, 2013

 

It’s 2009 and despicable self-serving rotter Robert Houston MP is about to defect from New Labour to the Conservative Party (although why bother?).  He and his wife are drinking champagne and getting frisky at the prospect of going further upmarket.  Then news of the expenses scandal breaks and Houston is thrown into a panic.  Can he hide everything he’s claimed for (such as hanging baskets, bags of manure and yes, a duck house) before Tory bigwig Sir Norman Cavendish arrives to give him the final nod?

Dan Patterson and Colin Swash’s script begins like a Yes, Minister deleted scene, peppered with satirical references.  It’s like watching a repeat of Mock The Week as you cast your mind back to remember what was going on four years ago.  Ha ha, Nadine Dorries did bite an ostrich’s anus! And yes, Michael Gove still looks like ‘a smug fish’! Fortunately for the play, many of the things mentioned are still current, with the phone-tapping case in court right this minute. It’s humour for the current-affairs crowd, Spitting Image made out of meat.   My problem with satire is it is the ‘allowed fool’ – it’s all very well to laugh at the not-so-great and the far-from-good but it’s not going to change anything.  It’s not really bringing anyone to account.

Be that as it may, all of that is thankfully just a prelude, a springboard from which launches a hilarious couple of hours of traditional farce of the Whitehall variety.  As fraught fraudster Houston, Ben Miller pulls off the remarkable feat of making us detest the character but love his performance.  He does a Fawltyesque rant very well, along with knowing asides and some excellent physical comedy.  He is ably supported by Nancy Carroll as his snobbish Mrs, and James Musgrave as his student son who has been subletting the flat that is supposed to be Houston’s second home… It all gets wonderfully, farcically complicated.  Add to the mix a superb Debbie Chazen as Russian housekeeper Ludmilla, who espouses the rabid rightwing views of the Daily Mail, and the vocally versatile Diana Vickers as an acupuncturist who offers ‘personal services’.  Simon Shepherd’s Tory bigwig is both the foil for the humour and the butt of the jokes in a stoic performance that descends into broad humour as his particular peccadilloes are laid bare.  Shepherd is wonderful as Sir Norman, the stock character of the authority figure brought low by hypocrisy and sexual perversion.

Director Terry Johnson keeps the energy levels high and the pace unrelenting.  His cast are already so at ease with the material they can improvise their way around troublesome ruches in the carpet and props that don’t behave as they might.  In an age where television comedy is going all retro and postmodern, it’s refreshing to see that the traditional farce form still works and still has a place on the British stage.

Rather than a call to action about the shameless scoundrels who continue to rip us all off and line their own pockets, The Duck House is a reminder that old-fashioned farce done well is a heck of a good time at the theatre.  And when the government is hell-bent on making life as miserable as possible for the majority of us, anything that makes us laugh consistently for a couple of hours is to be welcomed.

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