Reviews

The Miser - Review

Its 1677, or 1977, and here’s the farce. Moliere as punk hair and not wigs. It works, if you can believe the 17th century time frame, which is kept, with its parallel Young Ones punk fashion aiding high—octane deliveries.

Perhaps a trick was missed in the generation gap but this is avowedly a joyful all-of—a—piece ensemble play, stripped of the usual Moliere gravitas in the prose original itself derived from the Roman Plautus, and ripe for more frantic adaptations than any other of his works. Freyda Thomas’ updated, slangy version suits perfectly. The watchword ‘economic downturn’ is trolled out drolly, and other passages ‘ailing mother’ force a collective ‘aah’ in this superbly paced production by Steven Adams.

Rich miser Harpagon — Des Potton is commandingly screwed up in face and action ~ wants to marry off his son and daughter to hideous elders so they won’t cost him a sou. Alas for him daughter Elise (Kitty Fox Davies is no shrinking Moliere wannamope) has a suitor in a young man Valere (Nicholas Farr’s a canny dissimulator) who saved her from drowning and has now entered service with the family in disguise to be near her. Son Cléante (Young One Nik Balfe) is in love with — as he finds out — the very same young Marianne his father has eyed up since she’s frugal and pretty. In fact Chelsea Newton Mountney’s sparky thick mockney is occasionally profligate and nearly unclad.

However Kirilly Long’s fantastically trippy La Fleche, valet to trippy Cléante has overseen the miser’s hiding place for his gold and hatches a plan to at least borrow it for the children’s and servants’ sake. Likewise marriage broker Frosine (Amanda Harman) is quickly in on the double marriage plot against Harpagnon whose only mutual surprise is discovering through an intermediary that he’s the money-lender his own son has
come to, to mutual furious confusion. There’s fine support from the excellent Frank Leon as the cook Maitre Jaques taking a holiday from F awlty Towers, and James Macauley’s double act of moneylender Simon and the updated Inspector Sansclou.

There’s always a dea ex machina. This time it’s in the wildly improbable Senoir Anselme — Gerry McCrudden’s scarlet and linguistically OTT suitor for the daughter who turns out to be the father of both the lovers of the siblings, separated in one of the sea-storms that punctuate the work, Plautus’ sea-plots making a rare foray in the Paris-locked Moliere’s oeuvre. Dismissing both the inspector’s foraging for guilt and th miser’s resistance, he ensures everyone leaves for Long’s cheery verse epilogue. This has to be one of the most exciting productions at NVT recently, with hardly a weak link, and certainly the funniest.

Simon Jenner

Reasons To Be Pretty - Review

 

An impossibly romantic play about romantic impossibility is how this four—hander of young working-class misunderstanding through language spins out. LaBute’s trilogy on our obsession with appearances here uses a comment on it as the germ
infecting lives right from the start in a blazing row we’re pitched in the middle of: the break-up of a loving couple, both infected with surface value—systems.

There’s just one caveat that hits you straight off. Despite their capacity to articulate awkwardly, these characters are all far too articulate in their awkwardness to convince us that even these east—coast workers are quite what they seem. Greg, the character who grows and who’s always reading classic early American or British literature, is the one who makes the gaffe about his girlfriend’s face duly reported back that ends their relationship in this firecracker of a row, all overlapping challenge, misunderstanding and even near-blows that become real in their next encounter.

Fintan Shevlin well displays the gawky, intelligent Greg, believably so since he speaks so fast he trips himself up a few times. Steph who wilfully misunderstands him, in prising out what he’s said — she’s been compared off-handedly as regular-featured, not pretty to an off—stage beauty who creates later havoc. Steph flays a complete confession then leaves Greg wincing.

Loud-mouthed domineering Kent - a masterly performance by Scott Roberts - is married to Steph’s friend Carly who reported Greg’s gaffe in the first place. Greg has two reasons to dislike Carly, then, the second being that she grills him suspecting (rightly) he knows something about Kent. Kent’s bedded 23—year-old cutey Crystal who catalysed the disastrous comparison with Steph in the first place.

So it spools out, through meetings, confrontations, always in differing duets till Greg shows maturity by blessing Steph’s affluent life with offstage Tim, standing up to Kent and finally insisting Carly go home and of course find Kent with Crystal This sets the last scene, bittersweet farewell.

Greg and Steph come as close you want to get back together. It’s no spoiler then that LaBute wrote a sequel five years on in 2013, since he too intuits unfinished business in this Mamet—like super-articulate inarticulacy. Pamela Sian Evans acid—etches a fine job of Steph’s anger and soft regrets, Jen Ley’s more hard-boiled Carly sofiens to a tendresse for Greg that might blossom (folks, it does in the next play).

Not plot-driven, these eight tableaux turn on talk; there aren’t surprises. LaBute’s gift surprises through the shock of the ordinary, twists in life and torsions in speech pattern. We care about the four characters: aspirational Greg and Steph (more university types, Greg’s eventual destination), the other two blue—collar — literally, Carly’s blue-collar uniform she feels enhances her considerable attraction. Tim McQuillen-Wright allows them to spool out ending with Greg’s poignant final rebellious two fingers.

Simon Jenner

 

 

 

Women of Troy - Review

Director Ella Turk-Thompson’s decision to modernize this 415BC play isn’t the brave thing about it ~ Craig Raine’s 1953 adapted it to Nazi Britain. Putting on Kenneth McLeish’s version, with a non-naturalistic speech-delivery pushes everyone in this contemporary vision of torched palaces too easily evoking Iraq, Syria, Gaza. With kicked—over chairs, this razed land is hollow.

The Trojans have lost. Queen Hecuba’s sons are dead, her youngest daughter sacrificed, grandson - Hector’s child - here torn from his widow and flung over a tower wall. A chorus ritually mourn, dancing enslavement. Hecuba’s Claire Skinner gaining authority and dark power in her central role is confronted by daughters: first Jacqueline Harper’s prophet Cassandra, doomed virgin concubine of Greek supremo Agamemnon. Harper’s extremes are riveting, her vocal explosion sadly hoarse and smothered.

Soon-to-be-grieving mother Andromache’s Rebecca Polling is outstanding, instinctively balancing nuance with non-natural projection and expressiveness. Chorus-members Ruth Tansey and Margot Jobbins cut through vocally with the declamatory incisiveness to grace London stages (which also often lack it), both distinct and tragic. It’s the poise needed throughout. Pablo Woodward’s Menelaus promised much though shouts one-note; Mark Green’s Poseidon fares better, as does in part Shaila Alvarez’s Helen. Turk—Thompson’s heartfelt production is risk-
taking, timely and necessary: we need more Greeks. It just begs vocal finesse.

Simon Jenner

Loot - Review

'Loot’ was a play I chuckled aloud reading on the Northern Line years ago, and so I was relishing seeing it performed as the opening play of 2016 at the New Venture Theatre.

l’d looked up the meaning of ‘farce’ and its Latin origins of farcire actually mean ‘to stuff’, which it turns out was literally at the centre of the play I went to see in a full matinee house in the Studio theatre. We were presented with a simple but effective set of a room of the McLeavy family residence in which the characters find themselves cornered by events of their own — or no — making.

There were two doors (to the street and the rest of the house), a wardrobe (variously housing a hundred grand of robbed banknotes and Mrs McLeavy’s body) and a coffin (containing the same in opposite order — keep up!). Mrs M’s mummified corpse posing as a tailor’s dummy did the job all too well, which was essential as in its first showing in 1966 the Lord Chamberlain’s license insisted that ‘the corpse is inanimate and not played by an actress’. It was
hard not to gaze at the late Mrs McLeavy being hoiked around the room without some sympathy. One audience member couldn’t resist a peek into the coffin at the curtain just to check its contents.

This set design and well paced direction, wholly true to Orton's text, enabled his lethal lines of social satire and farcical drama of the miscreants scrambling to keep ahead of the law to be executed with great aplomb. it only lost a little momentum as the play’s plot twists in the last quarter became strained.

‘Loot’ is very much a vehicle for the characters of Fay (alias serial husband despatcher, Nurse McMahon), the orphaned son, Hal, and inspector Truscott (posing) of the Water Board (not the Yard). Emmie Spencer plays Fay well: she starts with some great exchanges with the widowed McLeavy, and her wiles, unashamed opportunism and track record of “match” and (quick) “despatch” of spouses means she runs rings around Hal and his bank job accomplice, Dennis. There are periods when it's a shame she’s underused by Orton compared with her excellent, centre stage playing of Ruth Ellis in last spring’s NVT The Thrill of Love.

Hal has the crucial role in ‘Loot’ for making Orton’s simultaneous satire and farce blend and Frank Leon did this commendably. His acting is stretched and succeeds when shifting from delivering deadpan lines — faced with burying his Mum naked, he deplores such ‘a Freudian nightmare’ — right through to the naif boy who’s never grown up and can’t lie where the ‘Loot’ is hidden, thus failing to convince Truscott that Father Jellicoe is really burying the £104,000 of banknotes (‘... by now I’d say it was half—way up the aisle of the Church’). The switch to the violence meted out by Truscott for Hal’s insolence shocks well.

Dennis (Jonny Parlett) is the the least developed of ‘Loot”s main characters, but it was interesting to see the careful direction around the homoerotic undertones to Hal and Dennis’s relationship. One concerned physical touch is in line with this underplayed dynamic for Orton, whose text playfully has Fay teasing Hal that ‘even the sex you were born into isn’t safe from your marauding’, with references to Dennis being ‘a very luxurious type of led with whom Hal is about ‘to elope to the Continent’. Yet, Hal is also an aficionado of brothels and Dennis thinks that his torrid affair with Fay has shown him the way to settle down to matrimony. Yet it is political not sexual anarchy, and societal power plays, that prevail in ‘Loot’.

Alistair Lock’s lot is hard one. Often in quite static short monologues, the widower has to change register from taking Truscott at face value as the inspector posing as a sanitary inspector (‘we can rely on public servants to behave themselves’), through to the indignant householder whose rights to rule in his own home become threatened, culminating in the pennies finally dropping towards the denouement. McLeavy assumes the detective role, realising through identifying the missing glass eye that his departed wife has been defiled and decrying that ‘I have reared a ghoul [Hal] at my own expense’. This replays the the dilemma the audience face throughout in judging Hal’s actions and morality. Fay has the foreshadowing line to him that ‘You’d be some kind of monster’ without his mum’s influence, but actually Hal is indifferent to stuffing the late Mrs McLeavy on her head in the wardrobe and implores, ‘All | ask is an hour or two of Burke and Hare’.

Andy Bell plays Truscott of the Yard consummately. The role has to and does dominate the many scenes he appears in and he equips himself to the usual high standards of his recent Brighton fringe theatre parts. He is at times a dufferish detective in swallowing the dummy (not mummy) plot device, yet sharp enough in catching out Fay by tricking her into revealing her real identity. Bell captures Truscott's unassailable state authority buttressed by crude force to supply the drama and plot drive, but it is the lugubrious menace he imparts in having to reluctantly force his confessions - as per established police procedure — alongside moments of avuncular concern, that is necessary to ‘Loot”s success. Bell’s demanour reminded me of the redoubtable Kenneth Cranham, who played many inspectors on the stage and television, and who interestingly took the part of Hal in the first London production of ‘Loot’ in 1966.

McLeavy initially becomes a willing accomplice to Hal, Dennis and Fay's machinations, and then reverts to type not able to face complicity with Truscott, with the poor widower ultimately deciding his own fate when threatening to turn to the safe authority of his priest’s confessional instead of taking his share of the spoils. Resorting to type of acquiescing in hierarchies does not bring its rewards is Orton’s message.

In fact, Hal’s glee at the prospect of his father being hauled off to the police station where he is expected to meet with a fatal accident brings the audience less to an indictment of Hal and more enlightenment of Orton’s position that you get the police that society deserves. For Orton, McLeavy is no innocent victim in the writer’s take on lower, middle-class British conformity and deference to public servants. Rather it makes him culpable in society’s stifling of Hal, Dennis and Fay’s generation’s lives and unleashes their lurid enterprises.

As ‘Loot”s epigraph signals, quoting George Bernard Shaw, ‘Anarchism is a game at which the Police can beat you’. Yes, while Truscott physically and mentally ‘beats’ Hal, Dennis and McLeavy, it still begs the question who are the real monsters in the play? The corrupt detective turns these moral tables, asking ‘has no one in the house any normal feeling’ as he has ‘never come across such people’ who behave as if ‘affiliated to Bedlam’. Orton decries the family pieties on display and the excellent NVT cast play Hal, Dennis, Fay and McLeavy as devoid of a sense of sin, guilt or immorality. In an Ortonesque world, virtue, if it can be found, is a sham.

Jason Lever

How Many Miles to Babylon - Reviews

Alan Stanford’s adaptation of Jennifer Johnston’s 1974 novel extracts great theatricality from vivid story-telling.

Exploring friendship across lrish boundaries tested to the limit, Anglo- lrish Alec (Edward Cave, constantly on-stage) narrates his history whilst awaiting execution.

Cave’s reflective persona sashays the past beautifully. Shaking off his crushingly domineering mother (Red Grey, all forbidding radiance) he continues friendship with local Jerry - Fintan Shevlin dancer, piper, and jockey — a prophesy of ‘War Horse’ here, and an echo of ‘Of Mice and Men’ later. All bar jockeying are brilliantly displayed in Shevlin, including a memorable Irish band ensemble.

It’s 1914: both men enlist for different reasons. An act of Jerry’s pushes Alec’s friendship to an astonishing finale.

The second act bustles with characters in this twelve—strong cast in the Ypres scenes including mercy—killing a wounded man. Jeremy Crow glacially plays furious Major Glendenning who wishes to end all friendships, all lrishness in fact, barely containing his ferocity till he finally strikes Alec. Forbidding Belfast sergeant O’Keefe
Culann rings as virulently true as Crow. Apparent light relief flashes across in the insouciant Bennett (Matthew Mulvay) and Mark Green as a French barman: but both shadow trauma. Gerry McCrudden paces both frenzy and stillness to a pitch the actors turn into an outstanding production.

Simon Jenner

 

 

This is a long, strong, sometimes bitter conflict of a play carrying a great deal of emotional baggage.

While English audiences might find themselves unfamiliar with pre—1914 Irish Protestant social mores, Gerry McCrudden’s fine, moving production makes it clear we’re dealing with a collision of friendship, discipline, military authority and cruel indifference.

He has a large cast of excellent actors.

We’re mostly concerned with Alec (Edward Cave) and his “private secret friend” Jerry (Fintan Shevlin) with whom he shares a love of horses. Alec, unwilling officer and gentleman, and Jerry, an uncomplicated lad from the village are inescapably bound in a loyalty which brings them a heart—breaking horribly unjust end on the battlefield.

Red Gray is Alec’s mother, an Irish Hedda Gabler, a chilling wrong-headed authoritarian while her husband, Alec’s dad (or is he?) is Simon Messingham, offering a most moving understatement of family loyalty.

Assorted military nastiness comes from Philip Davies, Jeremy Crow and Culann Smyth with Matthew Mulvay is the cynical young officer not caring while everyone else cares too much.

There is attractive music from Robert Purchese, Adam Kincaid, James Macauley and Mark Green.

Barry Hewlett-Davies