A View from the Bridge - Review

Every so often a production comes along that stuns and takes your breath away. This production was one of them – the direction and the acting oozed quality.

The play centres on Eddie Carbone, a New York long-shoreman, who together with his wife Beatrice, has raised his orphaned niece Catherine. He finds it impossible to accept that she is no longer his “baby” and reacts to their relationship being threatened by her blossoming into womanhood. His obsession is unhealthy, leading to jealousy with the arrival of a young illegal immigrant, Rodolpho.

Although written in 1955 Arthur Miller’s play felt fresh, retaining its power as a tremendous piece of dramatic theatre. Like Greek tragedy there was an air of inevitability to the unfolding events and the play’s climatic and tragic ending. The similarity continued with the use of a Chorus – in this case a lawyer acting as the narrator. Jerry Lyne in this role was extremely convincing – his delivery and movements evoking a lifetime’s court room experience. It was as though he was addressing a jury and not just the audience.

The play is a skilful observation of relationships providing actors with challenging roles that were fully met throughout.

Bill Arundel’s Eddie was spot on – a raging bull unable to acknowledge the reason behind his jealousy is his incestuous feelings for his niece. His watchful eyes were constantly conveying his obsession. As his neglected wife, Tessa Pointing gave a performance full of passion and heartbreak, torn between loyalty and abhorrence.

Catherine was played by Hannah Brain with a trusting innocence and sweetness that was replaced by a feisty defiance when Eddie does not agree to her marriage. What a part for an acting debut and her performance promised much for the future.

Jeff Smith and Nick Heanen played the two immigrant brothers, Marco and Rodolpho. Smith impressed with an understated performance – all still and quietness until he erupts towards the end of the play whilst Heanen was the opposite. A bubbly portrayal that was full of life and hope, with an endearing softness in his wooing of Catherine. One tiny cavil though. Why, in a production that strove for realism to the extent that the pasta was eaten on stage, could he not be persuaded to dye his hair in order to live up to Rodolpho’s nickname of “Blondie”?

Realism, the keynote of this production, was achieved through Mark Wilson’s first rate direction and the excellent set design. Three acting areas were intermingled with the audience creating the effect that you forgot a play was being performed. You were made to feel that you were part of the family.

It is a sign of Wilson’s reputation for quality productions that experienced NVT actors such as Ben Pritchard and Mark Green, along with others, were content to have walk-on parts. Their contributions, no matter how small, demonstrated the importance of every actor to the success of a faultless production.

Congratulations to all concerned with this outstanding production.

Barrie Jerram
20 June 2010

Endgame - Review

Appreciation of Samuel Beckett’s work is very much a personal taste with opinions often divided. There are those who believe him to be a genius whilst others see him as a theatrical charlatan and that championing him is just another case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Suffice it to say that I have still to be convinced of the former and that writing this review will be very difficult for me.

Disliking the writing’s obscurity and tediousness –that had me occasionally looking at my watch - I think it best that I treat the production as an acting exercise and comment accordingly whilst leaving it to cleverer minds than mine to defend and explain it.

Within a dark, grimy room sits Hamm, blind, unable to stand or walk and wanting to die. Around him Clov, possibly his son who he treats as a slave, begins the day’s routine. Frequent descriptions of the outside world as being zero suggest that some great apocalyptic disaster has befallen the world. Whatever hell lies outside the walls it is no match for that which Hamm’s cruelty creates for Clov within them. The cruelty extends to his parents, Nagg and Nell, who having lost their legs, are confined to dustbins where they are fed dog biscuits and abuse.

The bleakness of the play as Hamm bullies and insults all around him had redeeming moments of comedy, both verbal and physical that the cast successfully achieved.

If nothing else the play is a great test of acting skills and this production had a cast that more than meets the required calibre. Paddy O’Keefe and Louise Preecy, trapped in their metal prisons, bring out the pathos of the old couple yearning for physical affection but unable to reach each other. Sean Williams, as the abused Clov, gave a performance that was physically downtrodden yet imbued with a spirit of rebellion that often gave his master as good as he got. His staring eyes seemed to radiate malevolence

But it was Nik Hedges as the immobile Hamm that dominated the production. He delivered an astonishing performance that at times mesmerised - his delivery reflected the character’s many facets – aggressive, whinging, a crafty silkiness plus the touch of a luvy actor’s campiness.

For Mark Green’s fine direction of this play was clearly a labour of love, as a glance at the production credits reveals that he was involved in every aspect of the show’s creation, including the set. It was the essence of bleakness and I liked the idea of the audience entering via the back of it – possibly a Brechtian device to remind us that the piece was theatrical not reality.

Barrie Jerram
16 May 2010

The Ugly One - Reviews

This short fantasy play -– it ran for about an hour — concerned the current over-obsession with external beauty. It was followed by Your Face, Your Fortune, a “live happening” in the bar. As I was not able to stay for this it is hoped that others may be able to comment on it.

The central character, Lette, believes himself to be “normal” but is in fact unspeakably ugly, a truth that has escaped him all his life. Even his wife, who loves him dearly as a person, can only view him sideways-on by looking at his left eye only. When they first met and bedded his face was obscured by oil. Following the revelation of his ugliness he resorts to plastic surgery and his face is turned into a thing of beauty.

At first the transformation gives him fame and makes his fortune but things turn sour as more and more people have the same surgery. The effect of this produces clones that deprive him of his fame and identity. His subsequent despair drives him almost to the point of suicide.

The play concludes on a note of high narcissism that leads to a ménage a trois between Lette, the Mother and the Son.

As Lette, Andy Bell really inhabited the character, giving an extraordinary strong performance that developed the multi-faceted character changes. His cross talking act with himself at his darkest moment was a tour de force. This performance must rank as one of his best

The other seven parts were shared by the other three actors. Katie Grace Cooper slipped easily between her differing personas – the loving wife, the surgeon’s assisting nurse and president of a big company. Each part was perfectively defined and her sense of comedy was delightful in the early scenes where she avoids looking directly at Lette.

Christian Clifford-Walsh was provided with a chance to prove his versatility by the variation he provided in playing two not dissimilar roles – as Lette’s ambitious colleague he was suitable snide and devious whilst his mother dominated gay was almost reptilian at times.

Completing the cast and making his debut was Chris Jenkins, a product it would appear of the NVT’s acting classes. His portrayals of Lette’s buffoon boss and the camp plastic surgeon were more cartoonish in characterisation contrasted with the “reality” of the others.

I understand that directing the play for Mike Stubbs was not without its problems and that Mark Wilson offered assistance. Any such problems were totally absent from the finished work. Skilful direction ensured that the performance flowed freely. Changes of locations and character occurred seamlessly as the actors moved from the audience to integrate with the on-stage action. An inventive touch was having the operation carried out by the doctor and the nurse in the posturing style of a conjurer and his lovely assistant – pure farce.

Not for the first time a minimalist set proved to be most effective. On this occasion the use of white drapes, a chair and lighting was all that was needed to enhance the acting.

This play replaced the planned production of “Heroes”. Knowing the quality of that play I hope that a place will be found for it in a future season.

Barrie Jerram
17 January 2010

'The Ugly One' was followed in the bar by 'Your Face, Your Fortune', a collaboration between performance artists Tamar Daly and Sara Popowa, where, through photography and masks, rather than surgery, the audience could change their own faces, explore their identities and further develop issues raised in the play.

Your Face, Your Fortune is stylish, well played and well choreographed. The energy and interplay between Daly and Popowa as performers, combines with a mix of technology and sticky paper to define and drive this work where photographs of the audience are printed onto masks with press-out, peel-off features.

How does it then feel to then see the results of moving your own features on a mask of you face, or exchanging your features with another’s? Build comic, or tragic, composite identities that would confuse the most sophisticated facial recognition software. Maybe even try to test the town centre CCTV operators’ skills on the way home?

It is reassuring that in these times of often over complex computer solutions, Daly and Popowa have brought together the very different components of Your Face, Your Fortune without letting the technology distract from the essential fun of their performance.

Andy Towers
February 2010

Dancing at Lughnasa - Review

Brian Friel’s fine play tells of the five Munday sisters. Impoverished and struggling to eke out a living on a farm in a remote Irish village and each facing a future where marriage is more of a dream than a reality. The arrival of a radio lightens the hardship and deprivation of their daily routine thereby prompting the return of dancing into their lives.

Although likened to Chekhov’s Three Sisters, Friel’s heroines, having little choice as to their futures, are more deserving of the audience’s sympathy.

This memory play has Michael, the illegitimate son of the youngest sister, recalling events of the summer of 1936, leading up to the family’s disintegration. The grown up Michael acts as both the narrator and also the voice of the boy during the action of the play. John Tolputt’s gentle and dreamy delivery proved him to be a spell binding and lyrical story teller.

Dancing is the motif that runs throughout the play. From references to it at the pagan festival of Lughnasa, the description of African Tribal ceremonies through to the impromptu dancing generated by popular music from the radio. It also led to a frenzied burst of traditional Irish high stepping that was extremely well executed. There was even a bit of Fred and Ginger performed by Michael’s mother Rose and his feckless and often absent father, Gerry.

As with his previous production – It’s a Wonderful Life - Gerry McCrudden assembled a quality cast and his well thought out direction resulted in a high calibre show. Between them they brought out all the differing aspects of the play –tender warmth and gentle humour along with pathos and poignancy. A lot of attention had been paid to detail and authenticity although the Irish accents seemed a mixture of North and South. Occasionally the accents interfered with the clarity of the dialogue.

The set and the lighting were cleverly used for both interior and exterior scenes and I particularly liked the panelled walls that suggested the countryside around the farm.

Whilst each of the sisters deserved the audience’s sympathy Jennifer Keappock had the hard task of obtaining it for school teacher Kate. Being the only one having a paid job she has taken on the role of Mother to the household and as such has become the bossiest and more practical of the sisters. Keappock radiated charm when her character was relaxed but became fearsome in her anger and her sanctimonious outbursts. Her impressive performance was marred on a couple of occasions when, in her softer moments, she let her voice drop to the point of inaudibility.

Each of the sisters differing personalities were finely realised. Sarah Davies’s Maggie was an earthy creation who, as the joker of the family, often used her humour to defuse moments of tension. Her lively and boisterous performance was counterbalanced by the quiet one from Claire Armstrong as Agnes. Through the use of subtle looks & gestures she conveyed the anguish arising from the secret feelings she had for Gerry, the father of her sister’s child.

Chris, youngest of the Mundy sisters is still besotted by Gerry Evans who fathered her son. Evans a feckless charmer walks in and out of their lives as he chooses. His absences cause her deep depression but she lights up when he returns. Amy Holmes was most moving as her eyes and face radiated the love, joy and hope that Evans’ visits generated.

Charlotte Grimes played Rose, the childlike sister with development disability. It was a sensitive portrayal that attracted sympathy and not ridicule. The last member of the family was their brother Jack, a missionary priest lately returned from Africa where, to the displeasure of his superiors, he had gone native. Paddy O’Keeffe brought a gentle confusion to the ailing Jack in the first act that was replaced in the second by a fervent, almost evangelical, performance as he described the native ceremonies.

Martin Gogarty as the charmer Gerry Evans, forever full of schemes but doomed to be one of life’s losers, reflected well these aspects whilst showing himself to be a stylish dancer.

Barrie Jerram
21 February 2010

The Lying Kind - Review

With a reputation built upon serious plays, full of angst or having a strong meat content, The New Venture occasionally it lets its hair down and ventures into comedy. When it does the results are glorious and this production, a wonderful piece of lunacy, was no exception.

Director Ian Black’s choice of play was an inspired one. I understand that Black worked on it whilst working for his Master’s Degree hence his complete understanding of its requirements.

How two inept police constables made the journey from arriving at a house of an old couple to break the sad news of the death of their daughter to performing a striptease is almost too complicated to explain within my allotted word count. Suffice it to say that the journey, full of misunderstandings, included a vicar who was not all he appeared to be and an encounter with Gronya, the leader of a vigilante group known as PAPS – Parents Against Paedophile Scum.

The multi-layers of the surreal plot proved to be farcically hilarious and offered a superb pre-Christmas treat. Its many black humoured twists and turns owed more than a passing nod to Joe Orton. In fact Gronya brought to mind his Inspector Truscott – both believing that the route to justice can only be achieved through inflicting pain.

All good farces need the production to be slick and fast moving and Black’s direction was full on, hardly allowing the audience to draw breath between laughs. However, amidst the humour there were moments of poignancy from Sheelagh Baker’s depiction of an old woman’s mental confusion. Even her penchant for wanting to expose her bottom had its comedy underscored by the degradation of the act. Tom Robinson’s understated performance proved to be a perfect foil to Baker’s eccentricity as he wandered around totally bewildered by the events unfolding around him.

George Trotter and Nick Schofield as the dysfunctional policemen gave manic performances that complimented and fed off each other - with their slapstick and confused crosstalk bringing to mind old routines from the days of the Music Hall or those of Abbot and Costello / Martin and Lewis.

Both Richard Conolly and Emily Gallichan suffered the indignity of having to be manhandled by the policemen. Conolly, having been knocked out with a truncheon, was stuffed into a cupboard whilst Gallichan after fainting was bundled through a window and dumped into a wicker basket. Good performances from both actors.

Almost stealing the show was Louise Gregory’s Gronya. Gregory provided a grotesque figure whose bigotry and viciousness was as frightening as it was funny. Tattooed, clad in black leather, wearing Doc Martens and a studded collar she was the epitome of a certain class of society. All that was missing was the obligatory bull terrier. Her squeezing the officers’ scrotums was so realistic that I found my eyes watering in sympathy.

The only downside to the evening was the member of the audience who, obviously enjoying the production, allowed the constant braying laugh that he was blessed with to intrude. Its loudness distracted and its length often meant that subsequent lines were obliterated.

Barrie Jerram