The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 10th February, 2015
Mary Chase’s 1944 play is better known for the James Stewart film version – this revival reveals a sharper script from a female playwright, that rare beast (especially in those days).
It tells the story of a widow and her daughter who live with their brother and uncle respectively, one Elwood P Dowd. The man causes them no end of social embarrassment because of his best friend, the eponymous Harvey. The problem is Harvey is a (to us) invisible white rabbit over six feet tall. The widow tries to get her brother committed to a sanatorium so that the house will become hers – and a slew of comic incidents ensues, involving mistaken identity and some farcical running around.
The upshot is a delightful, charming and very funny evening, expertly played by a company with faultless comic timing.
Maureen Lipman is dream casting as the widow Veta, conveying her stress-induced dottiness along with some beautifully nuanced physical comedy. As disgruntled daughter and proto-teenager Myrtle Mae, Ingrid Oliver brings humour and a touch of Forties chic. There is a host of strong character actors: Amanda Boxer makes an impression as Miss Chauvenet, and Linal Haft makes the most of his cameo as an embittered cab driver. In the ‘meatier’ roles, Youssef Kerkour is a hoot as hired muscle Wilson: an imposing presence, Kerkour uses his physicality to contrast with his character’s softer side.
The excellent David Bamber’s Dr Chumley works himself up into a froth in hilarious scenes, sustaining this heightened delivery and displaying a nice line in double takes, while Jack Hawkins and Sally Scott play doctor-and-nurse and add to the confusion attractively.
James Dreyfus in the James Stewart role of Elwood lends his characterisation a laid-back, camp manner and it works like a charm. His offhand gestures to his unseen friend help us to ‘see’ the rabbit. Elwood is sweet, open-hearted and generous – when it is revealed that Dr Chumley’s cure will suppress not only his hallucinations but his good nature, making Elwood just like a normal human being (“and you know what bastards they are”) it is decided that a giant rabbit is not such a bad thing to have around the house after all. The most important thing is to be kind, the play reminds us.
PeterMcKintosh’s substantial yet revolving set grounds the action in its own reality, lending credibility to the settings so that Elwood and Harvey seem more at odds with this ‘normality’. Matthew Scott’s lovely, wistful music gives the transitions a bittersweet feel, perhaps lamenting that the world isn’t like the play but we wish it was; to have Elwoods and Harveys around would make the world a better place.
Director Lindsay Posner keeps things ticking along at a sometimes gentle pace – some moments could do with a bit more intensity to accentuate the farcical aspects, but the cast are allowed to have their head and, above all, Chase’s sparkling script is revealed as an overlooked jewel of a comedy. A feel-good piece that tickles the imagination as much as the funny bone.
“You got an ology?” Maureen Lipman (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
Leave a comment | tags: Amanda Boxer, David Bamber, Harvey, Ingrid Oliver, Jack Hawkins, James Dreyfus, Linal Haft, Lindsay Posner, Mary Chase, Matthew Scott, Maureen Lipman, Peter McKintosh, review, Sally Scott, The REP Birmingham, Youssef Kerkour | posted in Theatre Review
THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA
Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 14th August, 2014
One of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies and – guess what – it’s very funny. The script effervesces with word play and there are some good groanworthy gags to boot. The cast in Simon Godwin’s easy-going production handle the convoluted verbal sparring apparently effortlessly, and comic set-pieces (monologues and a double act) are played to the hilt with expert timing.
Michael Marcus is a dashing, upright Valentine, a likeable young man leaving home to make his way in the throbbing metropolis that is Milan. He’s a decent cove so we’re on his side when he plots to steal away Silvia, the object of his affection, from her lofty accommodation with the aid of a rope ladder. The plan goes awry and Val finds himself banished. Meanwhile, his BFF Proteus (an excellent Mark Arends) is sent to join him, parting with such sweet sorrow from his girlfriend Julia (Pearl Chanda). As soon as he claps eyes on Silvia, Proteus changes his affections and sets out to have the girl to himself by whatever means.
He’s a villain, driven by love, a selfish kind of love. You wonder why Julia bothers to come after him, disguised as a boy.
In this play Shakespeare sets out his stall for comedies to come. The best ideas here are reimagined in later works: Julia as a page, delivers letters to Silvia (c.f. Viola and Olivia in Twelfth Night); a comic routine detailing the virtues and vices of a milkmaid chimes with Dromio’s spherical woman in Comedy of Errors… The lovers’ tribulations come to a head in the wild, lawless world of a forest… (Midsummer Night’s Dream). In this respect, this fun and enjoyable production would serve as an excellent introduction to Shakespeare.
Roger Morlidge (Launce) and Martin Bassindale’s Speed are the clown roles, intercutting the main action with comic business that never gets in the way of the inherent humour of the text. The former’s dog, Crab, (an adorably scruffy ‘Mossup’) inevitably steals every scene in which he appears.
Pearl Chanda is an appealing Julia, supported by perky, sometimes downright bawdy maid Lucetta (an energetic Leigh Quinn). Sarah Macrae is elegant and chic as the beautiful Silvia – the costumes (Italian, 1950s-60s) look their best on her. Jonny Glynn’s Duke of Milan brings gravitas and cunning – his surprise exclamation of ‘Booyah’ intimates that we are not meant to take him too seriously. The mighty Youssef Kerkour appears in a brief cameo as Sir Eglamour, but one of the undoubted highlights is prat-on-the-make Turio’s rendition of the song Who Is Silvia? – Nicholas Gerard-Martin brings the house down in a superbly realised moment.
Also handled very well is the play’s problematic ending – perhaps it’s only problematic to our cynical postmodern eyes – as Valentine forgives Proteus for all his wrongdoing. I found the reconciliation rather touching.
The RSC has a hit with this seldom-performed treat. Visually beautiful, with some lovely live music (by Michael Bruce) this stylish and accessible production hits all the right notes in all the right places.
Valentine (Michael Marcus) and Speed (Martin Bassindale)
Leave a comment | tags: Jonny Glynn, Leigh Quinn, Mark Arends, Martin Bassindale, Michael Bruce, Michael Marcus, Mossup, Nicholas Gerard-Martin, Pearl Chanda, review, Roger Morlidge, RSC, Sarah Macrae, Simon Godwin, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, theatre review, William Shakespeare, Youssef Kerkour | posted in Theatre Review