Tag Archives: Ti Green

Uptown Top Rankin

REBUS: LONG SHADOWS

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 25th September, 2018

 

The character of John Rebus is familiar to many from the novels of Ian Rankin and their television adaptations.  Here, he is brought to life by Charles Lawson (formerly Jim Macdonald off of Coronation Street) in this first-ever stage version, adapted by Rona Munro. Lawson is a compelling, dishevelled presence, a sleeping lion of a man whose exterior belies the power he retains.  In retirement, he has lost none of the faculties that made him a good detective, and is still able to resort to, shall we call it ‘active persuasion’ to get the information he seeks.

The arrival of the daughter of a long-ago murder victim brings Rebus out of his Edinburgh flat and on the hunt for a resolution to the cold case.  Meanwhile, his mentee Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke (the mighty Cathy Tyson) is keen to get a serial rapist/murderer banged up.  Suddenly, Rebus is juggling two investigations, and the involvement of nasty piece of work crime lord ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty brings to light a dark secret from the former detective’s past…

It’s an intriguing if wordy tale, heavy on the exposition but played with conviction so it never falls short of gripping – and there are more laughs in it than you might expect.  Director Robin Lefevre maintains a naturalistic if intense style from his small but excellent cast, played against Ti Green’s stylised set – a sweeping staircase and foreboding walls that would not be out of place in an opera house.  Garth McConaghie’s original music is moody and urgent, befitting the thriller aspects of the story, and his sound design is disquieting.  The crimes are kept off-stage but are evoked by the dramatic device of having a couple of victims (Dani Heron and Eleanor House) appearing to haunt and taunt Rebus with his failure to secure a conviction and get them the justice they deserve.

Lawson and Tyson make an abrasive double act – we sense the mutual respect beneath the barbs and the jibes – but it is the scenes between Lawson and Big Ger (John Stahl) that make all the backstory worthwhile.  Stahl is menacingly charismatic, contrasting with Lawson’s comparatively passive presence, as Rebus apparently effortlessly manages the situation…  There is strong support from Neil McKinven in a couple of roles, and Eleanor House as Heather, the young femme fatale of the piece.

The waters are muddied.  This is no black-and-white crime story.  The morality is as murky as an Edinburgh fog.  One thing is unequivocal: Tyson yearns for a world in which men never attack women.  Looking at the current state of American politics, that world seems a long way off.

A stylish, involving piece, slickly presented and expertly played.  I would not be averse to seeing further Rebus stories staged in this way.

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Cathy Tyson and Charles Lawson (Photo: Robert Day)

 

 

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Troy Story

DIDO – QUEEN OF CARTHAGE

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 11th October, 2017

 

Kimberley Sykes’s new production of Christopher Marlowe’s classic romantic fantasy is, in short, a corker.  This is a world where gods interfere directly with the lives of mortals – the two species are differentiated by costume: the gods in modern day dress, the humans in period costume.  It can be no accident that Jupiter (the wonderful Nicholas Day) bears more than a passing resemblance to RSC Artistic Director Mr G Doran… Ellie Beaven is glamorous in a Miss Scarlet gown as the meddling Venus, and Ben Goffe is in good form as the cheeky, mischievous Cupid, pricking his victims with a syringe of Venusian blood.

As the eponymous monarch, Chipo Chung is every inch the regal ruler, albeit an accessible and hospitable one.  Her attachment to the warrior Aeneas (Sandy Grierson) unleashes passionate and capricious emotions; Dido is very much in the Cleopatra vein, at the mercy of her passions – and so is everyone else.  Chung is fantastic, compelling and credible in her excesses of emotion.  Grierson makes a fine paramour as Aeneas – he does come across as a little bit quiet at times but his recounting of the Trojan War is a vivid and gripping piece of storytelling.

Kim Hartman does a pleasing turn as a Nurse, tricked and pricked by Cupid, and Andro Cowperthwaite is especially alluring as Jupiter’s toy boy Ganymede.  Bridgitta Roy stalks around with a stick as the conniving Juno and Amber James brings intensity as Dido’s sister Anna.  I also like Will Bliss’s somewhat rangy Hermes, with wings in his hair.

Mike Fletcher’s original compositions, played live by a tight ensemble, add plenty of locational colour, while Ciaran Bagnell’s versatile lighting plan brings texture and variety to the deceptively simple staging.  Designer Ti Green gives the actors a stage covered in grey sand.  Pristine at first, it is soon disrupted and imprinted by the footprints of all the comings and goings.  It says a lot of the impermanence of life, I find, how easily our presence can be erased.

Above all, the show is a lot of fun.  Heightened action, passions running at full tilt – you can see why the tale is well suited for opera – stirring emotions and more humour than you might expect.

The show contains a lesson in how refugees might be treated, as people today continue to flee for their lives from war-ravaged countries.  Unfortunately, men (it’s invariably men, isn’t it?) persist in committing the atrocities Aeneas describes – but where is the divine intervention now?

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Yass, Queen! Chipo Chung as Dido (Photo: Topher Mc Grillis (c) RSC)


Body of Evidence

Amédée

Birmingham REP, Tuesday 28th February, 2017

 

Eugene Ionesco’s absurd play from 1954 gets an update in this adaptation from Sean Foley, with topical references like ‘zero hours’ and ‘will of the people’.  It remains, however, curiously old-fashioned.  Like an extended skit, it brings us the story of Amédée, a failed playwright, and his wife Madeleine, a switchboard operator.  It emerges that these two are housebound, imprisoned by a secret they have shared for fifteen years.  The nature of that secret is revealed to us in glimpses: there is a dead body in their bedroom and it is growing, taking over the tiny flat.  The corpse brings with it an infestation of mushrooms and, of course, puts increasing strain on the marriage.  Nothing is fully explained; it is left to us to piece together what sense we can from the crumbs thrown our way.  What is clear is the toll the situation is taking on the couple – the stresses of being full-time carers, the guilt of a murder concealed…

I warm to Trevor Fox as the self-centred, ‘suffering’ writer, while Josie Lawrence’s long-suffering Madeleine makes an impact from the off.  The pair fire barbs at each other and sometimes expose their suffering.  Absurd though the situation may be, the emotions expressed – and the black humour – come across as authentic.  There are hints of a dark world outside their window, adding to the claustrophobia.

Director Roxana Silbert cranks up the pace, adding to the comic delivery.  Ti Green’s set shows a kind of ordered clutter – the ever-growing body is as hilarious as the sprouting mushrooms are sinister.  Dyfan Jones’s sound design complements the weirder moments and Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting washes the action in dramatic hues.

In the final scene, with the secret/corpse out in the open, Amédée finds a great weight has been lifted, and the anchor that has tethered him to his wife and to mundane matters is no longer keeping him down…

Funny, to be sure, intriguing – in places – the production reminds us how much British comedy owes to European influences.  Ionesco was Romanian but his work shows the sparks that lit the flame for the likes of Monty Python, Reeves and Mortimer, and The League of Gentlemen.

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Up against it: Josie Lawrence and Trevor Fox (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

 


Gogol box

THE GOVERNMENT INSPECTOR

The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 23rd March, 2016

 

Nikolai Gogol’s comedy, a satire of Czarist Russia, is brought to exuberant life in this sparkling adaptation by David Harrower.  Director Roxana Silbert has gathered the most inclusive company I’ve ever seen: disabled and non-disabled actors, sign language users and interpreters, all appear side-by-side in this fast-moving, frenetic and farcical story of misunderstanding and mistaken identity.   Everyone is in costume and a character in their own right, rather than segregating interpreters in a spotlight at the side of the stage.  In fact, the expressive nature of signing lends itself very well to the heightened, exaggerated style of comic performance needed to keep Gogol’s balloons in the air.

Much of the show’s comic energy comes from one man.  David Carlyle is the manic Mayor of the little town expecting a visit from a government official.  Carlyle must be knackered by the interval – he’s certainly exhausting to watch and very, very funny.  His wife and daughter (Kiruna Stamell and Francesca Mills respectively) match him in terms of larger-than-life characterisations.  Stamell’s pretentious use of French words and phrases is a delight, as is Mills’s immature frustration.  Stephen Collins and Rachel Denning form a funny, Little and Large double act as Bobchinsky and Dobchinsky careering around the stage with a flair for physical comedy.  Sophie Stone amuses as the less-than-honest Postmaster and I particularly like Michael Keane’s starving servant Osip, whose master, the conniving opportunist Khlestakov is marvellously portrayed by Robin Morrissey.  Gogol lets us in on the joke from the off, allowing us to see Khlestakov’s cogs turning.  Jean St Clair’s Judge Lyapkin-Tyapkin is elegantly expressive and none-the-less funny – In fact, the entire company is unflagging in its efforts to maintain the show’s fast pace.  The laughs keep coming.

Ti Green’s skeletal set serves as all locations.  Much fun is made with the revolving door and I love the running joke of the lift with its muzak and prerecorded voice.  Chahine Yavroyan’s lighting adds to the humour, with some sharp changes to highlight the characters’ frantic asides.

Years ago I saw a production of this play that fell completely flat.  I am pleased to say this smart and snappy show has exorcised the ghost of that failure.  The playing is broad but detailed – Silbert overlooks nothing in order to wring as many laughs as possible from the situation, the script and her hard-working, talented cast.

The play exposes human foibles in all ranks of society.  Man is essentially corruptible, Gogol points out, putting us all in the same box.  Surely it can’t be relevant to us today.  Can it?  I rather believe it is.

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Master and servant: Robin Morrissey and Michael Keane (Photo: Robert Day)

 


Moments of Madness

WOMAN IN MIND

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 17th June, 2014

 

Susan (Meg Fraser) is living a middle-class nightmare. The love has gone from her marriage to vicar Gerald (Richard Conlon), her son hasn’t spoken to her since he joined some kind of sect in Hemel Hempstead, and her sister-in-law is slowly poisoning them all with her atrocious cooking. When she wakes from a bump on the head, Susan gets to sample a different life, with an idyllic family, sexy husband (Andrew Wincott) and grounds to an estate that goes on for miles… Susan is increasingly confused: which is real?

Marilyn Imrie directs Alan Ayckbourn’s comic drama so that Susan’s confusion doesn’t translate to our enjoyment. We see hallucinated characters react to Susan’s real life family, and it’s gloriously funny. Thanks to a powerhouse of a central performance from Meg Fraser, Susan’s tragedy is also apparent. The blending of real and hallucinated is supported by Ti Green’s impressive set, which houses Susan’s real garden in a dreamlike landscape of tree trunks and a suspended box on which projections are made and in which characters from Susan’s imagination appear, along with some atmospheric music composed by Pippa Murphy.

Fraser is supported by a strong ensemble. Richard Conlon makes a fine comedy vicar and infuriating husband, while Neil McKinven as the doctor, bridges the gap between the real and the imagined. Irene Macdougall is good value as sister-in-law Muriel, and Scott Hoatson brings sensitivity to selfish son Rick.

In Ayckbourn’s assured hands, the sitcom-ness of Susan’s home life is transformed into a tragic-comedy of a woman’s decline into mental illness. It’s Fraser’s performance that dominates and impresses in a production that never falls short of entertaining – as Susan’s mental state unravels, the more we feel for her.

A co-production between the REP and Dundee Rep Ensemble, Woman in Mind continues the Birmingham theatres run of excellent productions, and demonstrates yet again why Ayckbourn is one of our most important playwrights.

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Lacking in Spirit

A CHRISTMAS CAROL

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 3rd December, 2013

 

Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of Dickens’s seasonal classic emphasises its own theatricality.  A chorus of spirits in Victorian garb – grubby and dark, unlike the picturesque variety you find on Christmas cards – decide to influence the affairs of mortals (a bit like the gods in Clash of the Titans) and they focus their endeavours on one Ebenezer Scrooge, the epitome of anti-Christmas feeling and misanthropy.  The spirits wheel on lampposts, doors and so on, calling for special effects to manipulate each scene.  In a way, this allows director Tessa Walker to be rather inventive and, neatly and cleverly, to convey scene changes and depict the more fantastical elements of the tale.

The trouble is this approach robs the story of spookiness and surprise.

Standing in as Scrooge, Jo Servi does a nice line in wide-eyed double-takes, and pent-up aggression to anyone who bids him a merry Christmas.  As the spirits show him the past and present, traces of old emotions leak out from his tight-lipped callousness – it’s not so much a change in the man as a rekindling of what is already there, what is in all of us to begin with: our common humanity.   Scrooge’s reawakening is a release of suppressed emotion and Servi carries it off well enough with a sprightly song-and dance number.

Marc Akinfolarin’s Jacob Marley intones a stark warning in a beautiful bass voice and there is a lot of energy provided by Roddy Peters as the antithesis to Scrooge, the permanently cheerful nephew Fred.

Jason Carr’s score is very reminiscent of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, weaving in snatches of traditional carols in a rather discordant way.  As Scrooge thaws, the numbers become more melodic and somewhat more memorable.

Ti Green’s set – all bricks and floorboards with a false proscenium arch upstage – echoes the theatricality of the approach and suggests the dingy London streets.  I like the fact that it doesn’t change in line with Scrooge’s change of heart.  It’s the people, now all colourful and happy, that decorate this environment with Christmas cheer.

The ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is an enormous rod puppet, a griffin spreading its tattered wings like a skeletal vulture.  It’s a striking image but it’s a cumbersome process getting it on and off and it lacks the humanity of the previous spectral visitors.  It’s like the carcass of a Christmas bird picked clean, a sign of austere times to come.  It’s handled very expressively but, like the rest of the production, it’s a little too pedestrian to ignite the imagination or elicit an emotional response.

The openly artificial approach, efficient and clever though it may be, doesn’t give us a single “how did they do that?” moment to surprise us or fill us with wonder.  Instead we get a workable, workday version of the well-known story, performed by a likeable and proficient company, but lacking in that special ingredient to touch us and warm our hearts.

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