Tag Archives: William Ilkley

Caught Again!


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Monday 29th June, 2015


Still the longest-running play in London, Agatha Christie’s legendary whodunit continues to tour in this production first mounted a couple of years ago to mark the 60th anniversary. And the tour is still going strong – in fact, catching it again two years on, I think it’s going stronger.

Knowing who dun it doesn’t detract from your enjoyment of the piece. It’s fun to spot all the red herrings and misdirection Christie builds in, as well as the clues she seeds in from the offset.

Giles and Mollie Ralston receive their first guests to their new venture, a country house hotel. Unfortunately, it’s snowing and won’t stop and, down in London, there’s been a murder. Christie introduces us to a range of oddball characters, each of them suspicious in their own way, before trapping them in the house and cutting them off from the outside world, and bumping one of them off… The killer from London is among them!

What makes it fun – and some of the outmoded attitudes (a character’s campness is regarded as a mental aberration!) palatable – is the expert playing by the ensemble, who capture the larger-than-life characters without too much exaggeration. Director Ian Watt-Smith brings out the humour of the piece as well as the suspense and tension. It’s a delicious watch.

As Giles Ralston, Mark Homer is suitably charming and yet pompous – and sounds a little like David Mitchell! Esther McAuley is his Mrs, Mollie, again pulling off the period accent with aplomb and, later, showing sensitivity and emotional depth (not something you see often with Christie’s characters). Anne Kavanagh is bombastic old biddy Mrs Boyle, William Ilkley is bluff old cove Major Metcalf, but their colourfulness is topped by Jonathan Sidgwick’s outrageous Italian, Mr Paravicini, who turns up unannounced. Also striking in this performance is Jocasta King, standing in as young-woman-in-trousers Miss Casewell. Conducting an investigation is Luke Jenkins’s energetic Sergeant Trotter but it’s the most extrovert character, the vigorous Christopher Wren (an irrepressible Edward Elgood) who cuts the biggest dash – irritating, overbearing and yet funny and touching, Elgood elicits an Ahhh from the audience at one point, so enjoyable is his portrayal.

Christie’s plot moves like clockwork, drawing us in and getting our minds working. I think I enjoyed it more the second time around.

William Ilkley, Edward Elgood and Esther McAuley feeling the pinch of The Mousetrap

William Ilkley, Edward Elgood and Esther McAuley feeling the pinch of The Mousetrap

A Shaw Thing


New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Friday 14th June, 2013


In a break from her in-house style, the New Vic’s resident director, Theresa Heskins helms this subversive piece from George Bernard Shaw.  It is an entertaining and thought-provoking demonstration of her versatility.

It begins as an amusing comedy of manners – a young Englishman abroad with his friend, encounters a young woman and after much stammering in a Hugh Grant vein, asks her father for her hand in marriage.  And then the trouble starts.  It comes to light that Daddy is Sartorius, a self-made man, whose fortune comes from ill-gotten gains.  In short, he is a slum landlord, screwing every farthing he can out of his desperate tenants.  Nowadays he’d be trousering huge amounts of housing benefit, while publicly railing against the high cost of welfare. The source of Sartorius’s wealth gives rise to qualms in the young man.  He (Trench) has been living comfortably enough on his annual income and informs his fiancée that two can live as cheaply as one… And then the source of Trench’s income is revealed…

By the time we reach the third of three acts we have been drawn into this world, largely by dint of charming, spirited and nuanced performances by the excellent company of actors. The true colours of the characters are on show, and they are not very attractive.  Blanche (the excellent Rebecca Brewer) declares how she hates the poor in an outburst that is as heartfelt as it is distasteful.  As Lickcheese (great name!) the rent collector with a conscience, the lively Leigh Symonds gives us a contrasting accent to all the posh voices but he, like Trench after him, quells his qualms when his own pocket is affected.  Mark Donald is both endearing and infuriating as Trench, learning the true nature of the world and casting his ideals aside. He portrays the character’s awakening very effectively; you want him to make a stand against the injustice he has stumbled upon but, of course, he can and will not. He is Nick Clegg, finding himself in bed with vipers and then cosying up with them. Andonis James Anthony is superb as snobbish arbiter of good taste, Cokane, a kind of referee to the proceedings as the argument unfolds, but ruling the roost is William Ilkley’s Sartorius.  The characterisation oozes power and self-assurance.  A look or a gesture speaks volumes.  This is his world and you’re in no danger of forgetting it.

Beautifully designed by Michael Holt, the production boasts an ingenious set that is impressionistic in its depiction of locations ranging from a Germanic hostelry to rooms in Sartorius’s house, and subtle in its symbolic reminder that these people are living on top of the poor.  The costumes are sumptuous, complementing the performances to evoke the late Victorian period.  Some social mores have moved on since then but, sad to relate, some attitudes prevail.

This is the uncomfortable truth of the play:  Conscience and empathy are swept aside by selfish concerns.  It’s not just about protecting one’s interests; it’s about exploiting one’s position for personal gain.  Today, 120 years after the play’s premiere, it is sickening to realise that both sides of the House of Commons are still riddled with people like Sartorius and Trench.

widowers houses


Still Bouncy

Festival Theatre, Malvern, Wednesday 19th September, 2012

John Godber directs this ‘remix’ of his 1977 play, proving that in 35 years, little has changed in the culture he depicts with equal measures of affection and cruelty. It remains his best work.

Four men in dark suits and black tees, complain about their lot on the doors of the ‘Asylum’ disco/nightclub. They also become their customers, a group of girls and a group of lads as they plan, prepare for and enjoy a Friday night out on the piss and on the pull.

With a few deft strokes (and the addition of a handbag) the caricatures appear – some of their features are exaggerated but they are all grounded in reality.

Don Gilet is bouncer Les but he really comes to life when depicting the punters, male and female. William Ilkley is the brutish Judd – his Plain Jane girl could have fallen out of Viz magazine. Ace Bhatti’s sexy Suzie encapsulates the precocious teen who, beyond dressing up and applying make-up, doesn’t know what she’s doing. But it is Ian Reddington as Lucky Eric, the lynchpin of the piece, who really shines in all of his incarnations. He is afforded four soliloquies, each darker than the last, revealing the seamier side of the revelries. He implores us to look at the Big Night Out as something more sinister – this is not some tract expounding the medical dangers of alcohol abuse but rather a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Why is this weekly ritual all that life has to offer these people, “the working class with no other options, in a country that hates them, drinking themselves to death.”
When he details the degradation of a woman in a pub, or sexy Suzie’s grubby sex in an alley, it is horrific. We feel as helpless as him. A certain slice of British society has been held up for ridicule, disgust and ultimately pity.

The play covers similar ground to Willy Russell’s Stags and Hens, but this is the in-your-face Brechtian version, revelling in its own theatricality and artifice. The cast is a tight ensemble, a chorus, united in movement and verse. The minimal staging – four metal beer barrels and some stairs – is plenty. The characterisations, forged from gesture and voice, make the audience create the details in their imaginations, filling out the sketches into portraits of people we recognise. In the hands of this excellent, tight-knit group of actors, it remains a powerful tool.

The ‘remix’ is really cosmetic. Mobile phones, YouTube, Joey Barton – names and music are updated but the heart and the meaning of the play remain intact. Only the scene (albeit hilarious) in which the bouncers act out a ‘bluey’ seems like a relic from a bygone age, merely because film projectors have been superseded by the digital age.

I am certain the audience, containing several large parties of GCSE students, got a lot from this dazzling and funny display of theatrics, but I know, with the frustrated fatalism of Lucky Eric, that these kids will go on to live out many of the experiences depicted on the stage, and not because they saw them played out on stage. Rites of passage are one thing but when it comes to the adoption of a lifestyle I have to agree with the play: Something is rotten in the state of Primark.