Reviews

Through the Wormhole - Review

I well remember the feeling of exhilaration that I had on leaving the NVT after seeing The Last Resort a couple of years ago. If I am to be honest then I must say that, as much as I enjoyed its sequel, I did not come away with the same elation.

Why should that be? There were so many good things about the production that I find it difficult to pinpoint the exact reason.

I suspect that one reason would be because a major factor in my memory of the first panto was the shock of its originality. This time around that element, by its very nature, had to be missing.

In addition it was felt that the first act was a bit slow in taking off and needed a bit of a lift. Maybe it could have done with some more gags.

Possibly the fault lay with me – my expectations may have been too high.

But enough of the negative! There were many witty, inventive and enjoyable things to be positive about.

Eleanor Gamper, wearing her writer's hat, produced an intriguing sequel that involved Brighton under a new ice age, a giant worm, traveling through time and space together with the reappearance of some favourites from the previous show.

Reprising their roles as the Prince Regent and Mrs. Fitzherbert, Denny Vans Agnew and Laura Bennett, again delighted with assured performances that demonstrated a superb sense of comic timing.

Carl Boardman once again took to drag as Old Mother Brighton – this time reincarnated as Holly, one of the eccentric Miss Tree sisters. He was joined by Andy Thomas as Ivy. Their performances brought to mind Hinge and Bracket – although with the maniacal portrayal of Ivy it was more a case of Un-Hinged!

They were pitted against the evil wiles of the dastardly Christiana and of her plot to rule the Universe. Once again the recipient of the audience's hisses and boos was Pat Boxall, who obviously relished her return to this role.

The sisters were aided, by amongst others, an assortment of odd characters who had traveled through time. In addition to Prinny and Mrs. F other local personalities such as a bewildered King Alfred, nicely underplayed by Peter Milner and an exceptionally well-endowed cave woman rejoicing in the name of Jawbone, a wickedly funny and camp caricature by Jonny Hume. There were many other pleasing performances from the rest of the cast, sadly too numerous to mention.

Director, Nik Hedges coped well with the enforced change to and the limited space of the studio, particularly in the ensemble numbers.

More creative credit has to go to Eleanor Gamper, wearing another of her hats. She was responsible for the show having original lyrics and music and created a good mix of lively numbers and ballads.

For me, and I suspect for many, the high spot of the evening was Einstein Alive, a clever parody of the Bee Gees' number, with the eminent scientist transported though time to a Seventies Disco. An image that will stay with me for a long while was that of Jerry Lyne, looking remarkably like the great man, strutting his stuff on the dance floor.

It would be very wrong not to give praise to the rest of the creative team for the effective set and especially to Peter Milner and helpers for the delightful and inventive costumes.

Barrie Jerram

Cosi - Review

The new season, with its theme of Dreams and Visions, got off to a cracking start with a high quality production of Louis Nowra's wonderfully comic play.

Set in an Australian mental asylum, it tells the trials and tribulations of a naïve would-be theatre director, fresh out of University, who has been invited to stage a play with some of the inmates as part of their therapy programme.

Right from the start his plans are hijacked by Roy who, being obsessed with Mozart, coerces Lewis into putting on Cosi Fan Tutte instead. Roy is determined to realise his dream despite the cast being unable to sing or speak Italian.

The play was full of witty lines and theatrical in-jokes interlaced with some political dialogue, the play being set at the time of the Vietnamese War.

The author has created an amazing gallery of characters who inhabit the asylum and, whilst they may be caricatures that we could laugh at, we were also made to feel that they had qualities that made them real.

Jet Tattersall deserves full credit not only for choosing this play but also for its fine direction and the astonishing acting performances that she drew from her cast.

The play worked on two levels. Firstly it could be enjoyed simply as an extremely funny piece of theatre and judging by the guffaws of laughter that rang out during the performance it must have satisfied those members who seek entertainment rather than "serious" theatre.

Secondly, the play could appeal to the intellect as, according to Jet's notes, there was a serious subtext and inner story. Did I discover the play’s hidden meaning? Sorry but I was so busy laughing that I didn't have time.

Given the opportunity to demonstrate high class acting, the cast shone throughout. With the evening being full of so many masterful performances is it fair to mention any individual ones?

In praising Sophie Dearlove for the comic performance of the evening with her portrayal of the sex obsessed, Cherry, am I doing a disservice to Andy Bell who gave, what I thought to be, his best performance to date?

If I found Kate Davies's Julie most touching then what can I say about Alex Childs who was almost unrecognizable as Ruth, an equally fragile creature?

And so I could go on throughout the entire cast list.

The benchmark has been set for the rest of the season and it's going to be very interesting to see how subsequent productions measure up to this high standard.

Barrie Jerram

The Weir - Review

Conor McPherson's award winning play may be short on incident but it is full of well crafted, naturalistic dialogue. Set in a small bar in a remote part of Ireland, the play is a celebration of Irish storytelling. It is full of humour as well as moving moments.

Having just brought a nearby property from him Valerie, a young woman from Dublin, is introduced to some of the bar's habitués by Finbar, a onetime local man who has gone on to become a successful business entrepreneur.

In the bar are three unmarried men; the pugnacious Jack who claims to enjoy his independence whilst at the same time urging the much younger Brendan, the owner of the bar, to get married. One later learns that he once had a fiancée but that he foolishly passed up on the chance to marry her. The third is another older man, Jim, trapped at home looking after his elderly, sick mother.

The arrival of Valerie sparks off undercurrents of sexual rivalry between the men including Finbar, a married man. One senses that he is a bit of a lecher but lacks the courage to pursue his desire.

When the joshing amongst the men dies down, the play moves into a series of tales of ghostly incidents told by the three older men. This encourages Valerie to relate her story involving the death of her daughter. The telling of it is a form of catharsis for her.

Each story was a monologue that allowed the actor a chance to demonstrate their skill in gripping the audience's attention. In every case their delivery was spellbinding and it was a strength of the production that their fellow actors enhanced the atmosphere by remaining absolutely still during these speeches.

The play was beautifully directed by Pat Boxall who captured the various moods of the piece and managed to draw out fine performances from her cast. Nick Brice captured well the mercurial temperament of Jack – quick to anger and quick to forgive. His telling of the breakup with his fiancée was so well handled revealing as it did the other, softer side of this character's nature.

As the barman, Brendan, Nicholas Richards, grew into the part and delighted with his shy, gaucheness towards Valerie. He was well matched by John Griffiths' portrayal of Jim. He made him a simple soul with an air about him of being lost. One feared for his future once his mother dies.

Nik Hedges gave a fine performance as Finbar. He conveyed well the air of aloofness and superiority over his former neighbors yet at the same time gave out a sense of unease at being back with them.

Rita Stone was excellent as Valerie especially in her painful telling of the chilling story concerning her daughter.

So much skill and effort had gone into building up the tension in the first half of the play that it was a pity that the piece could not have been played without an interval. The cast had to start all over again in the second half.

 

Barrie Jerram
17 May 2005

Amadeus - Review

Since the success of his play, La Gloria, which was about Vivaldi, it is not surprising that Mark Wilson decided to direct Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, which is about Mozart. He went for a promenade production in the round. This released the play from the confines of a stage and the audience was encouraged to mingle with the cast in the studio. It was like eavesdropping on an important and exciting secret. Since there is a great deal of secrecy going on, this suited Shaffer's play very well.

When Paul Scofield played the first Salieri at the National Theatre in 1979, he said it was the hardest modern part he's ever had to grasp – "It's like Lear". Bill Arundel made his villainy unexpectedly reasonable. He destroyed Mozart, not simply through jealousy but because of being angry with God for bestowing on Mozart the power of creating glorious music. He thought Mozart unworthy to receive it. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Amadeus: Beloved of God) was a scatological nuisance. It was okay to wipe him out.

Surrounded by the dark intrigue of the Establishment figures who circled the Empress (Ray Farr) like malevolent black beetles, Bill Arundel stood head and shoulders above them. An imposing figure with his shock of blond hair and long black coat, he produced some moments of awful nobility in the name of evil – which made his villainy the more despicable. If the Devil has the best tunes, Salieri has the best lines and when Bill Arundel spoke them, you realised how good they are.

We had to wait 20 minutes for Mozart to make his first appearance. When George Williams arrived, he was a giggling child on his hands and knees, breaking wind and playing dirty games with Constanze (Katie Scarfe). Salieri's view of his rival was reasonable, then?

But as intrigue deepened and the gossiping trouble-makers moved in for the kill, George Williams turned Mozart into a man who deserved our sympathy. His final moments, with the Requiem completed, were heartbreaking. We all felt enormous pity. I don't cry at the theatre, but...

His tormenters were Pat Boxall, Cheryl Brown, Carl Boardman, Andy Thomas and John Adam. The production gave an opportunity to hear some great music, of course, and we weren't disappointed.

Because of being semi-derelict, I don't do promenade any more but from where I was sitting, it looked good, a production NVT can be pleased with. It had to be Salieri's and Mozart's evening but they had great support.

 

Barry Hewlett-Davies
16 July 2005

Thin Walls - Review

Anita Sullivan's play tells the story of a wife escaping from the trapped life of her marriage. Like Shirley Valentine she talks to the walls but there the parallel ends.

Whilst Shirley found sunlight and happiness on a Greek Island the woman here flees from the comfort of a nice detached house to a grotty bed sit where the walls are far from being friends. Rather they become objects of torment with strange noises and a woman's voice seeping through them.

The play is an interesting and intriguing study of a person undergoing what appears at first to be a nervous breakdown with moments of humour and startling force. The writing keeps the audience on the edge of their seats throughout the evening. As the play moves on it becomes apparent that the woman's condition is more than just a breakdown. In fact she is schizophrenic and paranoid. The walls, being in the end perhaps, a metaphor for the division between sanity and madness.

If there is one criticism it is that the ending is a little obscure and needs some more work on it. What are we to believe when she crashes through the wall, re-emerges and declares herself free? How had she achieved this freedom? There had been talk of methods of suicide so were we to believe that she had killed herself by smashing into the wall? If the breaking through the wall was symbolic of the woman escaping from her madness and returning to normality then how was it achieved? What "light on the road to Damascus" event had occurred? Talking with fellow members of the first night audience afterwards it was apparent that they were similarly puzzled.

With the part especially written for her, Alexis Hills gave a veritable tour de force performance switching as she did from sane and rational narration to the volatile paranoia of her alter ego. Her depiction of the meetings with the woman on the other side of the wall was both mesmerising and shocking.

Whilst this was virtually a one woman play credit must be given to Eleanor Gamper for effectively providing both the noises and the voice behind the walls.

Barrie Jerram
7th April 2005