Posts Tagged ‘Richmond Theatre’

Medea, Richmond Theatre, November 2012

21 November, 2012

In the original Greek play by Euripides, Medea is a barbarian princess brought to Corinth by Jason as his wife. After he leaves her to marry the daughter of Creon, king of Corinth, her sexual and vengeful energy finds a way to burn up those holding power over the civilization she finds herself in.

In this modern tragic-comic version of the story by Mike Bartlett, Corinth is a small-town housing estate, Creon owns the house she lives in, and Aegeus, the king who offers her a safe haven to his city of Athens hoping she will help him father a child, is a man with a house in Spain.

Interior of the house

The fine designs by Ruari Murchison allow us to see the interior of Medea’s house, as well as its neat façade when the walls close up. At the end, where in Euripides’ original Medea ascends into the chariot of the sun god, the roof of the house opens and we see the full horror. It is all very cleverly done, with superb music and sound design by Tom Mills. Towards the end when Jason (Adam Levy) comes to see Medea on his wedding eve and try to settle things, she says, “I forgive you”, and the music stops dead. They go upstairs to her room, and the little boy in the next room wakes up. The designs allow us to see it all, and bring it alive as a modern drama.

Medea and her boy

Medea herself is brilliantly portrayed by Rachael Stirling. Clever, mercurial, narcissistic and appallingly low on self-esteem, the text even allows her neighbours Sarah (Lu Corfield) and Pam (Amelia Lowdell) the use of modern psychological terms such as, “She’s transferring her anger”. Her feeling of being an outsider is well captured when she complains about Sarah and Pam having known one another for years, when in fact they have only just met. The bitchiness at the beginning of the play pales into insignificance as things move on, and Medea’s barbed comments turn to a native cunning whose consequences catch us by surprise.

Jason and Medea

Rachael Stirling, whose mother Diana Rigg played the same role in Euripides’ play twenty years ago, gives a riveting performance of a woman who sees in the breakdown of her marriage a grievous insult to her own wit and intelligence. Other people are simple-minded clots, except for Jason, the landlord (Creon) and his daughter (Glauce), who will find everything they cherish burn to oblivion in the fire of her revenge. Her portrayal demands a visit to this intriguing production by the Headlong theatre group.

Performances continue until November 24 — for details click here — after which it goes to the Northcott Theatre, Exeter until December 1.

The Judas Kiss, Richmond Theatre, October 2012

30 October, 2012

This David Hare play focuses on two moments in Oscar Wilde’s relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie). One is at the Cadogan Hotel during the day leading up to his arrest, the other in Naples after his release from prison.

Bosie, Robbie, Wilde

The audience found several of Wilde’s lines amusingly witty, and some of Bosie’s breathtakingly narcissistic. This obnoxious young man was well portrayed by Freddie Fox, his admirable physique well befitting the nude scenes, though Tom Colley as Bosie’s Italian lover in Naples arguably beat him in this respect. Cal MacAninch as Robbie Ross, an ex-lover of Wilde who adores him and wants to help him, was very convincing, and the scene with the hotel servants was well played, but Rupert Everett made an unsympathetic Wilde. It’s essential to feel for him, otherwise the play rather loses its point.

Everett as Wilde

In an interview in the programme, David Hare is asked why he picked the two moments he did, and to what extent the dialogue was Hare’s own invention — the answer is most of it. Among numerous other questions and answers, the one asking what the author was trying to achieve is absent: was the intention to explain Wilde’s demise, was it to grieve over a relationship that halted Wilde’s creative genius, or was there some other purpose? However, in an article by Wilde’s only grandson — well worth the price of the programme — Merlin Holland wishes he could ask his grandfather one single question, ’Why on earth did you do it?’ suing Bosie’s father, landing himself in gaol and allowing society to rid itself of a rebel “who called into question … the hypocrisy of those social, sexual and literary values upon which Victorian society was so firmly based”.

The creative team that put this on has done a terrific job. Fine direction by Neil Armfield with excellent designs and costumes by Dale Ferguson and Sue Blaine, and clever lighting by Rick Fisher that allows the audience to experience the passing of many hours as Wilde sits almost immobilised.

Bosie and lover

Time waits for no man, but at the end of this play it seems that Wilde is waiting for time so it can annihilate him. I would have preferred more depth.

Performances at Richmond continue until November 3 — for details click here — after which it goes to the Theatre Royal Brighton, November 5–10, before opening in the West End at the Duke of York’s Theatre on 17 January 2013 (previews from 9 January).

The Handyman, Richmond Theatre, October 2012

15 October, 2012

In the mid-late 1990s at my son’s high school in America, the janitor was accused of having been a Ukrainian concentration camp guard in World War II. Most of the students wanted to excuse him, because like the title character in this play, written about the same time, he was a nice guy who wouldn’t harm anyone … and it was all so long ago.

Forgive and forget they say, but forgiveness is the prerogative of victims, and as for forgetting, well the birds finally come home to roost in this clever drama by Ronald Harwood. A much-loved handyman has been with an English family since shortly after the War, and is now suddenly faced with two police officers accusing him of being involved in the genocide of 817 Jews in three villages in the western Ukraine. Timothy West gives a realistic and sympathetic performance of this gentle fellow called Wronka, with Adrian Lukis and Caroline Langrishe portraying Julian and Cressida Field, the couple he works for. They react in different ways. Julian provides some comic relief, and understands guilt, seeing it in Wronka’s calm reactions to his late wife’s outrages, but Cressida adores the lovely man who joined the family before she was born. She cannot cope with the idea he might be guilty, and towards the end Harwood cleverly allows her to show the face of holocaust denial.

The Fields hire a highly intellectual solicitor, beautifully played by Carolyn Backhouse, who expresses some elementary truths about anti-Semitism and responds to the claim that Wronka is not evil by dismissing the concept as it “absolves us of responsibility”. Indeed nice people can participate in some very nasty acts, but even if he is guilty as the police seem to think, how could one possibly prove it more than fifty years later, when it’s one person’s word against another and memories can be unreliable?

The solicitor arrives

The police, well portrayed by James Simmons and Anthony Houghton, are not quite without support, and as the play progresses we hear video testimony by Vanessa Redgrave and Steven Berkoff representing faces from the past. These vignettes suddenly draw us back to the early 1940s, to what actually happened when Jews from three villages were taken into the woods and shot.

She can’t believe it

Can Cressida Field ever truly believe Wronka was involved? I don’t know what Harwood’s original ending was, but he changed it, and in this fine production by Joe Harmston it works brilliantly. The birds do it.

Performances at Richmond continue until October 20 — for details click here — after which it continues on tour to: Malvern Festival Theatre, 22 – 27 Oct; Oxford Playhouse, 29 Oct – 3 Nov.

Great Expectations, On tour starting in Richmond, September 2012

16 September, 2012

This intriguingly melodramatic adaptation of Dickens’ novel by Scottish playwright Jo Clifford tells Pip’s story very effectively.

There are two Pips, Paul Nivison as the adult, narrating and facing the ghosts of the past, and the young Pip, brilliantly played by Taylor Jay-Davies. In this stage realisation by Graham McLaren the past ghosts may scream at Pip, but with their ghoulish make-up and the remains of cobwebs on their backs, we know this is all part of his imagination in remembering such terrifying characters. There is a single set for the whole play, which the characters adapt for numerous different scenes, and the flames that burn up Miss Havisham are entirely real.

The duo of her (Paula Wilcox) and Estella (Grace Rowe) was suitably dramatic, Jaggers (Jack Ellis) was vocally assertive, and Steve North and Chris Ellison were wonderfully realistic as the sympathetic father figure Joe Gargery and the dangerous looking convict Magwitch. The dramatic make-up, lighting and costumes help conjure up Dickens’ story and I loved the extraordinarily tall hat worn by Wopsle (James Vaughan).

Excellent movement, particularly the balletic choreography of Nathan Guy on the mantelpiece as Herbert Pocket, and the musical score by Simon Slater with sound production by Matt McKenzie added to the spooky atmosphere. Adapting a novel of nearly 200,000 words to one evening lasting barely more than two hours including an interval is a remarkable achievement, and there are plans to send it to the West End after the autumn tour.

The dates for tour are: New Victoria Theatre, Woking, 18–22 September; Malvern Theatre, 25–29 September; Theatre Royal, Brighton, 2–6 October; New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, 9–13 October; Civic Theatre, Darlington, 16–20 October; The Waterside, Aylesbury, 30 October–3 November; His Majesty’s, Aberdeen, 6–10 November — for details click here.

Barefoot in the Park, Richmond Theatre, May 2012

3 May, 2012

This Neil Simon comedy was co-directed by Maureen Lipman who also played the part of the mother, Mrs Banks. As in all comedies, timing is of the essence, and Lipman was superb, as was Oliver Cotton as Victor Velasco, the engagingly impecunious Hungarian neighbour of her newlywed daughter Corrie.

The newlyweds at home

Corrie schemes to get her mother out to dinner with Velasco, along with herself and her husband, and the resulting four inebriated people somehow manage to make it through to a new day. Dominic Tighe was wonderfully natural as the young lawyer husband who eventually walks barefoot in the park, causing Faye Castelow as his wife to feel sudden sympathy for him and vow to make the marriage work. But it’s her mother who sets her up to be reasonable, and the comic character of Mrs Banks has a serious purpose to play.

Excellent designs by Tim Goodchild, appropriately nineteen sixties, were well lit by Nick Richings, and the brief but beautifully appropriate musical interludes during scene changes were the work of Matthew Bugg. This was Neil Simon’s first big Broadway hit, and the theme of two newlyweds coming to grief as they set up in their own flat after a week’s honeymoon is timeless.

Oliver Cotton and Maureen Lipman

The drunken scene, with Maureen Lipman sliding her heels uselessly on the carpet as she tries to stand up, was beautifully done. After sleeping it off she recovers her effervescent charm and can finally give her daughter a bit of very sound advice, “Give up a little of yourself for him . . . Take care of him. Make him feel important. Then you’ll have a wonderful marriage, like two out of every ten couples”. Well said, well played and well directed.

Performances at Richmond continue until May 5 — for details click here — and on May 7 it moves to the Arts Theatre, Cambridge.

Cinderella, Richmond Theatre, London, December 2011

15 December, 2011

Could Prince Andrew’s daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie have thought that their appearance at the Royal Wedding in those eye-catchingly frightful hats would place them in the pantomime roles of Ugly Sisters? Surely not. That would be taking publicity-seeking too far.

Buttons and Cinders, all photos Simon Annand

Yet I imagine the Richmond Cinderella is not the only one to use their names, as well as producing copies of the hats. The audience were so responsive — they loved it, even if the little ones couldn’t get all the jokes. Running through a check-list: cleaners, check; no, Polish. And the decapitated coffee: you know, with no head on it.

Off to the ball

There was something for everyone, and for those who like a bit of charm, tiny white ponies came on stage to take Kellie Shirley’s Cinderella to the ball. If you like panache and loud colours, the costumes for Graham Hoadly and Paul Burnham as amusingly outrageous step-sisters Beatrice and Eugenie were magnificent — no expense spared.

Cinders, Dandini and the shoe

Robert Aldous was excellent as a genial Baron Hardup, and well-known stand-up comic Jenny Eclair was a dramatically glamorous Fairy Godmother. But it was Gary Wilmot as Buttons who really won my heart. He was warm, fun, great with the kids who came on stage, and his comic timing was perfect.

This is a super Cinderella for the family, and performances continue until January 15 — for details click here.

An Inspector Calls, review, Richmond Theatre, London, November 2011.

16 November, 2011

There’s a lovely conjuring trick using a box having a top, four sides and no bottom. You open it out to show that it’s empty, then close it up again and produce things from the inside. I thought of this in seeing Stephen Daldry’s interesting production of J. B. Priestley’s 1945 play, with the inspector as the magician, and the five other main characters as the top and sides of the box. The difference here is that the box at first appears to be full, then empty … but then as the sides close up again there really is something there!

This is, after all, entertainment, and scores of teenage girls sitting near me in the audience loved it. The production shows the participants as caricatures, with the inspector as a forceful Scotsman played by Tom Mannion, and I particularly liked Kelly Hotton as the daughter. The players showed plenty of melodrama, exhibiting the pretensions and presumptions inherent in the class system, and rendering this play excellent material for GCSE, which is why the teenagers were there.

The setting was presumably pre-First World War, but the boy who switches on a radio gives a curious disjunction in time, providing the occasional use of music, which made a powerful contribution. Both time and space are disjointed, and the designs by Ian MacNeil, with small doorways and windows in the house made the characters larger than life. The occasional use of supernumeraries helped give an air of reality behind the selfish concerns of the dinner guests, and the aspect of society at large being more important than a few individuals is very topical in view of present worries about the Euro and the disaffection with EU bureaucracy that is being felt across Europe.

This powerful drama by J. B. Priestly plays tricks with time, with guilt about the past and precognition about the present — the now but not here that we don’t yet see. The box is empty, yet also stuffed full — well worth a visit as it tours Britain.

Performances in Richmond continue until November 19 — for details click here. It then tours to: Bromley, Churchill Theatre, Nov 22–26; High Wycombe, Swan Theatre, Nov 29–Dec 3; Plymouth Theatre Royal, Dec 6–10. In 2012 the tour dates are: Blackpool Grand Theatre, Jan 9–14; Norwich Theatre Royal, Jan 17–21; Nottingham Theatre Royal, Jan 24–28; Salford, The Lowry, Jan 31–Feb 4; Belfast Grand Opera House, Feb 7–11; Dublin Gaiety Theatre, Feb 14–18; Glasgow Theatre Royal, Feb 21–25; Aberdeen HMT, Feb 28–Mar 3; Bradford Alhambra, Mar 6–10; Aylesbury Waterside, Mar 20–24; Cardiff New Theatre, Mar 27–31; Swindon, Wyvern, Apr 3–7; Cheltenham, Everyman, Apr 10–14; Newcastle Theatre Royal, Apr 17–21; Sheffield Lyceum, Apr 24–28; Swansea Grand Theatre, May 1–5; Llandudno, Venue Cymru, May 8–12; Northampton Derngate, May 15–19; Wimbledon New Theatre, May 22–26.

Keeler, Richmond Theatre, September 2011

24 September, 2011

Christine Keeler is a name to conjure with, but this play is really about Stephen Ward, the fashionable osteopath and portrait painter who committed suicide after the Profumo scandal blew up in 1963. He is portrayed here as a very nasty piece of work, a man who, on behalf of Russian Intelligence, was using Keeler to extract information on nuclear capabilities and British negotiations with Kennedy in the cold war stand-off with Khrushchev. Cold, manipulative and ruthless, but how true is all this?

Paul Nicholas as Ward and Alice Coulthard as Keeler

Those who met Ward found him absolutely charming, but that’s not how Paul Nicholas played him. On the contrary, he came over as cold and uncaring. There must have been another side, and the same goes for Alice Coulthard’s Keeler, who veered between irritation and acquiescence. Whatever it was that men found so attractive didn’t come over, but that may be due to the director, who also played Ward. Andrew Piper as Profumo, like Paul Nicholas as Ward, spoke with a somewhat upper class 1960s accent, but it was too tense. Those accents were spoken in a more relaxed way at the time, so their performances sounded unnatural.

Andrew Piper as Profumo and Alice Coulthard as Keeler

This play by Gill Adams moved very slowly at the beginning, and Act I seemed to be going nowhere, but Act II, which dealt with the really interesting stuff, went by at lightning speed. Profumo made his announcement to the House, saying his relationship with Keeler was never inappropriate, then appeared shortly thereafter to deny his claim. What happened? We don’t see the pressure or understand the emotions leading to the sudden reversals at the end. Keeler herself comes over as pretty dull, which may be intellectually accurate, but in representing her jaded recollections of what happened this play failed to give an account of what it all felt like at the time.

Performances at Richmond continue until September 24, after which it tours: Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, September 27–October 1; Grand Theatre Swansea, October 3–8; Opera Theatre, York, October 17–22; Churchill Theatre, Bromley, October 24–29; Festival Theatre, Malvern, October 31–November 5;  The Royal Theatre, Brighton, November 7–12; Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, November 14–19.

The Madness of George III, Richmond Theatre, September 2011

6 September, 2011

Towards the end of this play, Dr. Willis from Lincolnshire places his hand on the King’s shoulder and offers to accompany him when he makes an important appearance. Shades of that recent movie The King’s Speech, but the King — now fully recovered — turns on him abruptly for his presumption. You do not touch the King, nor look at him, nor address him directly, and we are suddenly back to the beginning with Farmer George who is wise in all things and more than a match for his ministers, not to say his fashionable doctors, who had no clue what treatments to recommend.

David Haig and Beatie Edney as King and Queen

Indeed how do you cure a king whose urine turns a purple colour — a strong sign of an attack of porphyria — when you have no idea what it indicates? Porphyria is a disease stemming from a genetic condition and if that was indeed his problem, it points to the utter futility of the treatments meted out to him. These include the appalling practice of blistering, which we see performed on stage. When the King is fully recovered he turns on Dr. Warren, who forced this treatment on him, with the words, “You fashionable fraud. Go and blister some other blameless bugger!”. The king is back to his old self, sharp tongued and witty, and Dr. Warren — more sympathetic to the fashionable Prince of Wales than to the king — is firmly put in his place.

The King restrained

This play by Alan Bennett, first staged twenty years ago, gives a brilliant insight into the world of George III, and the restless desires of his eldest son, who wittily says, “To be heir to the throne is not a position — it is a predicament”. But the Prince of Wales does not have the intellectual curiosity or incisiveness of his father, and not a few politicians are anxious to support him, and of course be on the winning side, if the King’s condition compels a Regency. On the King’s side is Pitt the Younger, superbly played by Nicholas Rowe, whose body language alters most cleverly depending on the King’s condition. Beatie Edney is wonderful as Queen Charlotte, or Mrs. King as her husband calls her in bed, and when the King talked lewdly to her in German about Lady Pembroke, the audience roared with laughter — it is not necessary to know colloquial German to understand phrases comparing her breasts to ripe melons. Christopher Keegan was equally fine as a plump, slightly camp Prince of Wales, expressing his desire for a new emphasis on style yet being suitably obsequious to the King as occasion demanded, and Clive Francis gave a convincing performance of the dull but forceful Dr. Willis from Lincolnshire. This production by Christopher Luscombe beautifully combines humour with the serious aspects of royal illness and recovery, aided at times by Handel’s music.


Yet this play for all the fine acting by its large cast would be nothing without the extraordinary performance of David Haig as King George. To go from a display of sound common sense to mental uncertainty, physical discomfort and an inability to control himself, is surely a test of a great actor’s skills and to combine this with sweating anguish and fear as he is physically restrained and compelled to undergo appalling indignities, is quite remarkable. If you have the chance to see this production, do not hesitate.

Performances in Richmond continue until September 10 — for details click here. The production then tours to: Newcastle Theatre Royal, Sept 12–17; Norwich Theatre Royal, Sept 19–24; Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, Sept 26–Oct 1; Nottingham Theatre Royal, Oct 3–8; Cambridge Arts Theatre, Oct 10–15; Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury Oct 17–22; Milton Keynes Theatre, Oct 24–29; Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, Oct 31–Nov 5; Hall for Cornwall, Truro, Nov 7–12; Chichester Festival Theatre, Nov 14–19.

Three Days in May, Richmond Theatre, August/September 2011

30 August, 2011

On 30 September 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flew back to England from Munich and addressed the crowds in Downing Street, giving his “peace for our time” speech. Parts of Czechoslovakia were taken by Germany the next day, and far worse happened to that country in March 1939. On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland, and two days later Britain and France declared war.

Warren Clarke as Churchill

On 10 May 1940 after disastrous Allied military operations on the Continent of Europe, Chamberlain resigned, fully realising the gravity of the situation. Labour party leaders had refused to serve under him in a national coalition government, Lord Halifax the foreign secretary declined to become Prime Minister, and Churchill took over. We are now ready for the start of this play.

On 26 May, Paul Reynard the new French Prime Minister flew to London with proposals for negotiations, leading to three days that formed a turning point in the Second World War. The war cabinet had to decide whether to play for more time and try further peace deals, or tell Mussolini and Hitler to take a running jump. There are five main players: Churchill, Chamberlain, and Halifax, along with Attlee and Arthur Greenwood on the Labour side.

Halifax was keen on negotiation and had Chamberlain with him. “Thank God, Winston’s finally coming round to our point of view” he said after the inner cabinet meeting on 26 May. Churchill in fact wanted to fight, but he was in a tricky position because he had to take Chamberlain with him as leader of the Conservative party, even if Halifax was to be left on one side. So what happened?

Jeremy Clyde as Lord Halifax

Ben Brown’s new play tells us, in a very interesting and well-focussed way. We start and end with Jock Colville, Churchill’s assistant private secretary, at that time a young man of 25, well portrayed by James Alper. Jeremy Clyde was a convincing Halifax with his withered arm, and calm attitude, with Robert Demeger showing Chamberlain as a man with reduced energy levels compared to Churchill. When Churchill calls him in early for the cabinet meeting on May 28 he waits alone with Colville, saying, “It’s now eighteen days since I was Prime Minister — eighteen of the longest days in my life”. He waits . . . silently. And this is one of the strengths of the play. The silences allow the script to breathe, giving Warren Clarke space for his brilliant performance as Churchill, entirely able to coax, cajole, or fire back in annoyance, and the quiet moments are something to treasure. They allow some wonderful quotes to stand out. “History will be kind to me, because I shall write it”, says Churchill. And at the end, Colville, talking from the future, tells us that when the Prime Minister went to Moscow, Stalin said he could think of no other instance in history when the future of the world depended on the courage of one man.

The simple staging, directed by Alan Strachan with designs by Gary McCann, manages to take us from the cabinet room to the garden with only a clever change of Mark Howett’s lighting. It is very effective, and while this play is in line for a West End theatre, yet to be determined, it’s worth a trip to Richmond to see it — click here for details. Performances continue until September 3, after which it goes on tour to the following theatres: Cambridge Arts Theatre, Sept. 5–10; Theatre Royal Bath, Sept. 12–17; Malvern Theatres, Sept. 19–24; Theatre Royal Brighton, Sept. 26–Oct. 1; Milton Keynes Theatre, Oct. 3–8; Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, Oct. 11–15.

I’ve just heard that this play will go to the Trafalgar Studios from Oct 31 to March 3, 2012.