Tag Archives: Tim Treloar

History Tomorrow

KING CHARLES III

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 8th September, 2015

 

Mike Bartlett’s hit play turns out to be something of a modern masterpiece.  It’s a Shakespearean history play set in a not-too-distant future and begins with some funereal choral singing by the candlelit cast, a requiem for the late Queen Elizabeth II (a beautifully atmospheric composition by Jocelyn Pook).   There is an additional frisson seeing the play on the eve of Her Maj’s breaking of the record for the longest reign in British history.

The Queen is dead, boys, and Charles succeeds.  The action covers the period between succession and coronation and it soon emerges that Charles will not settle for being a figurehead, rubberstamping legislation willy-nilly.  His refusal to sign off a law restricting the freedom of the press triggers a constitutional crisis, the dissolution of Parliament and riots in the streets.  Prince William, egged on by a Lady Macbeth-like Kate, puts himself forward in a bloodless coup, seeking to take the crown for himself ahead of time.

In fact, blood is the only thing missing from this history.  Bartlett gives us a lot of fun with blank verse (where mentions of Sainsburys and Wetherspoons add bathos and seem anachronistic); rhyming couplets end scenes and there is even a ghostly Diana stalking across the stage, intoning cryptic prophecy.

It’s a very funny piece, peppered with satirical barbs (the script is updated constantly to keep it topical) but in the end it is a tragedy on the grand scale, where the main character’s fatal flaw is his conscience.

As the new king, Robert Powell is magnificent, stately and regal and also human.  The iambic pentameter of the verse drips off him – It is important to note the cast do not do impressions of their real-life counterparts.  They are personages in a drama, a game of thrones, rather than caricatures – although there are plenty of references to make them recognisable to the people we know and lampoon today.

Penelope Beaumont brings dignity to the role of Camilla, here a kind of advisor and voice of reason, while Jennifer Bryden is deliciously Machiavellian as the scheming Kate, urging husband William (Ben Righton managing to look dashing in a comfy pullover) to man up and step up.  Charles is pretty damning of the Wills-and-Kate effect, their empty, plastic, tabloid popularity.  Monarchy without meaning is very much the thrust of the drama.

Richard Glaves is fun as hedonistic Harry, slumming it in nightclubs and late-night supermarkets, until the pull of duty and the status quo yanks him back into line.  The play questions the role of monarchy in a supposedly democratic, egalitarian society.  Evans, the somewhat Cromwellian Labour PM, speaks passionately and reasonably (a forceful Tim Treloar) while Stevens, leader of the Tory opposition (an excellent Giles Taylor), behaves exactly as we expect politicians to carry on.  Evans seems almost too principled and too good to be true in comparison!

There is strong support from Lucy Phelps as Jess, Harry’s proletarian girlfriend, and Dominic Jephcott as James Reiss, both on contrasting ends of the social scale.

Directors Rupert Goold and Whitney Mosery give the piece the gravitas necessary for us to take the play seriously.  What could have been just an amusing skit and an intriguing conceit becomes a thought-provoking and relevant night at the theatre, powerful, entertaining, enlightening, and ultimately moving.

Robert Powell, Ben Righton and Jennifer Bryden as Charles, Wills and Kate.  (Photo: Richard Hubert Smith)

Robert Powell, Ben Righton and Jennifer Bryden as Charles, Wills and Kate. (Photo: Richard Hubert Smith)

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Acts of War

BIRDSONG

Festival Theatre, Malvern, Monday 4th March, 2013

 

Rachel Wagstaff’s stage adaptation of the Sebastian Faulks novel yields an intelligent and stirring production, making the point that the First World War is now only knowable to us through secondary sources.  The territory is familiar to us from poetry, literature and film.  R C Sheriff’s classic play Journey’s End springs immediately to mind, and also Blackadder Goes Forth with its depiction of men of all classes thrown together in the trenches.

Wagstaff’s script takes us back and forwards in time.  We begin in 1916 when the war is deeply entrenched (sorry) in France.  The men are cheery – given the title of the play, you might say ‘chirpy’ –  singing music hall songs and repeating well-worn patter to keep up their morale.  Enter cold fish of a commanding officer, Lieutenant Stephen Wraysford.  Distant and aloof, he has a habit of slicing rats open in order to read the future in their entrails.  He excuses a hard-working sapper from a court martial, setting in motion the chain of events that will bind these two men together until death does them part.

It is Wraysford’s story we follow back and forth from scene to scene.  Sent to France to work with a factory owner, he embarks on an affair with said factory owner’s wife, a holiday fling that increases in magnitude with the advent of war in Europe.

Sarah Jayne Dunn (Mandy off of Hollyoaks) is elegant and pained as the wife, struggling to keep a lid on her emotions. Malcolm James is imperious as her abusive husband –you can see why she’d stray.  The mood is leavened by Berard – Arthur Bostrom in fine fettle; inevitably, when he starts to speak in his French accent, you are reminded of his turn as the language-mangling gendarme in ‘Allo, ‘Allo! but this image soon fades.  Charlie G Hawkins is energetic and powerful as young recruit Tipper; his snivelling and sobbing from fear before the men go ‘over the top’ is heart-wrenching.

Victoria Spearing’s set – a bombed-out ruin of a building – serves for every scene: the trench, the home of Wraysford’s French hosts, the tunnels dug by the sappers.  The action flows from one to the next seamlessly as the cast bring on and take off chairs and tables and so on, flitting across the stage like ghosts in Wraysford’s memory, his past life in rubble and ruins.  This all works very well but I can’t help thinking I would like to see more differentiation in Wraysford himself.  You quickly acclimatise to the fact that he’s going to appear in his army uniform even in the pre-war scenes but Jonathan Smith, although indicating through physical attitudes the change of time, place and circumstance, could do with extending his range of vocal choices; it seems as though he addresses everyone in the aloof and strident tones of the officer he becomes, even the supposed love of his life.   I wanted to see more of a change in him on an emotional level.

As sapper Jack Firebrace, Tim Treloar provides the backbone of the show, playing the full gamut of emotions with truth and subtlety.  We feel the loss of his ailing son back home.  We sense his attachment to his trench-mate Arthur.  Through him we see what the war does to decent men.  Through Wraysford we see a man blighted by love rather than war – the war just compounds the damage done.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite match the presence of Firebrace.  More time is needed for us to invest in this man before we meet him as the cold and distant lieutenant.

Director Alastair Whatley has a powerful production on his hands.  There are some striking moments: the love-making scene has a whiff of contemporary dance to it, stylising the passion as we romanticise our own endeavours in that sphere!  The scenes in the tunnels and trenches with their bangs. booms and flashes are evocative and frightening.  The device of characters narrating their letters to and from home serves to give us multiple viewpoints of the situation and to individualise the people involved.

It’s a shame we feel more engaged with these minor, subsidiary characters than the leading man.

Extra Birdsong