Posts Tagged ‘Richmond’

The Breadwinner, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, April 2013

21 April, 2013

People are trapped by the expectations of society, and it can take a dramatic rupture from convention to move on with your life. This was something Somerset Maugham dealt with in his 1916 novel The Moon and Sixpence, published when he was forty-two, which is precisely the age of Charlie Battle in this play.

Charlie and Alfred, all images Robert Day

Charlie and Alfred, all images Robert Day

Maugham himself, born into a family of distinguished lawyers, opted out of a conventional life when he first decided against a legal career, and then after qualifying as a doctor he abandoned professional life for writing. In this clever play, Charlie is not a lawyer or doctor, but a stockbroker living comfortably with a wife, son and daughter in Golders Green. We also meet his close friend and solicitor named Alfred, who has a wife, son and daughter of similar ages.

Alfred's daughter, Charlie's son

Alfred’s daughter, Charlie’s son

Auriol Smith’s well-directed revival of The Breadwinner has two intervals, and we only meet Charlie just before the first one, having already met the others. They come in various states of vacuity, though they think themselves pretty clever, thoughtful and witty, and all agree that Charlie lacks a sense of humour. In fact, Charlie is the only one who has a sense of humour — the only one who can laugh at himself.

Charlie's wife

Charlie’s wife

Alfred's wife

Alfred’s wife

It all starts with the four callow young people whose naïve ideas that anyone over forty is a dead loss (and it’s a good job so many of them died in the Great War) brought smiles and laughter from the audience. His son Patrick is the worst offender, a clever young man who aims for politics and wants to jump on the Labour bandwagon with no clue about life unsupported by the comforts afforded by a substantial income. But if the young ones are idiotic so are the grown-ups, with Mark Frost and Isla Carter as the bouncy good humoured Alfred and his emotionally too-clever-by-half wife, so sure that they understand what goes on in the minds of others, and Cate Debenham-Taylor so pretty as Charlie’s artistically worthy wife.

You just want someone to put these fools in their places, and Ian Targett as Charlie does it in a cleverly disingenuous way. Three women bounce off him like flies hitting a window pane, and the only person he has any sympathy for is his daughter. Perhaps he will meet her again, but you can see why Targett’s beautifully acted Charlie would be happy to get rid of the rest of them.

Performances of this satisfying production continue until May 18 — for details click here.

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Sauce for the Goose, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, December 2012

22 December, 2012

Just the ticket for the Christmas season, this Feydeau farce is huge fun. The driving force is marital infidelity, real and imagined, and what’s sauce for the goose is …

1.Sauce for the Goose_Orange Tree Theatre_1

M et Mme Pontagnac

Bedroom doors opening, closing, locking and unlocking, … all done in the round — how is it possible? The answer is doorless doors, working very cleverly with noises off, and compared with a farce of that name this is far more enjoyable. There is no tripping over things, no overt clowning, and though the first two acts last nearly two hours they flew by in wonderfully entertaining fashion.

Not what he bargained for

Not what he bargained for

It all starts with bright cheerful music and the world seems so simple, until Lucienne enters pursued by the impossible Monsieur de Pontagnac. Thinking he can have her as she takes revenge on her husband Vatelin, he ends up being the fool of the piece, and rather than getting sauce for the gander, finds his goose to be well and truly cooked. The translation by Peter Meyer has plenty of nice lines and the play on the words dog and hound by Heidi, who spoke bits of perfectly good German in her confused anxiety, was very amusing. Blood-dog for blood-hound, lap-hound for lap-dog, and being dogged into bed came over with spontaneous wit.

She's exhausted him

She’s exhausted him

Act III starts with a cheerful march, perhaps reminding us of the military man Pinchard and his wife who take the bedroom booked by Vatelin, creating utter confusion at the end of Act II. The music, translation, and timing brought this delightful farce to life, with fine acting from the whole cast, including notable performances by Stuart Fox as an engagingly simple husband Vatelin, Beth Cordingly as a prim, proper, determinedly vengeful wife Lucienne, and Damien Matthews as the lover she would gladly embrace if she could manage it.

Someone's in the wrong bed

Someone’s in the wrong bed

I don’t like the dropped trousers and silly moments of some farces, but love Fawlty Towers, which is farce par excellence. The important thing is that the characters play it seriously, as they do in this excellent production by Sam Walters. After all, adultery is a serious business, and Feydeau’s knack for immediately bringing together people who should never meet one another makes for laughter that keeps us riveted from beginning to end.

Performances continue until February 2 — for details click here.

Love’s Comedy, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, November 2012

26 November, 2012

When Ibsen was about 21 he fell in love with Clara Ebbell, an intelligent, spirited girl two years his junior, considered to be the town’s most brilliant young lady. A similar thing happens in this play to the poet Falk and his beloved Svanhild, one of two daughters in a house presided over by Mrs Halm. All the names mean something: Falk refers to the falcon, representing liberty, freedom and victory; Svanhild to a mythological Nordic princess trampled to death by her horses after choosing true love, and Halm refers to a fortified homestead.

Svanhild and Falk, all images Orange Tree/ Robert Day

This is a battle between young love and convention, with Mark Arends giving a razor sharp performance as Falk, ever ready to respond, dispute and pierce the protective skin of others. Can he win Sarah Winter’s dreamily perspicacious Svanhild, who very ably matches his words and mockery?

Julia Watson as Mrs Halm

In the meantime there are other couples to put life in perspective. Svanhild’s sister Anna, beautifully and simply played by Jessica Clark, and the young Lind who has a clear direction to his life … until it changes under pressure from Mrs Halm and others. Those others include Styver, a civil servant and coin of low value, well portrayed by Mark Oosterveen, along with his fiancée the bold, nosey and noisy Miss Jay whose pinched intensity was ably captured by Amy Neilson Smith. And Pastor Strawmand, very engagingly played by Stuart Fox with his mellifluous voice, yet this man of straw cannot stand up to Falk, who metaphorically knocks him over. Can anyone stand up to Falk? Well, there is the wealthy Mr.Guldstad, and one must see this early Ibsen play to find out how things resolve themselves in the second half.

It’s worth every minute of our attention in this riveting production by David Antrobus, aided by Katy Mills’ lovely costumes and powerfully evocative music by Dan Jones. This was complemented by the director’s extra music for lyrics by Don Carleton, who made the excellent translation.

Wonderful imagery in the first part as Falk sees Svanhild as the warm air that will lift the falcon to glorious heights, and she sees herself as a string holding the kite — but the string can always be cut. And in the second half, the pastor’s pleading speech to Falk to remove the boulder that he has suddenly placed in his path was beautifully delivered by Stuart Fox. These performances of an early and relatively unknown Ibsen play are not to be missed.

Performances continue until December 15 — for details click here.

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 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.

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.

Muswell Hill, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, February 2012

23 February, 2012

Losers. In and out of the kitchen at a dinner party in Muswell Hill, talking about their personal concerns, while the Haiti earthquake stands as a background to keep things in perspective.

Karen, Simon, Jess, Tony/ all photos Robert Day

The losers occasionally lose it, but the hostess Jess, brilliantly portrayed by Jasmine Hyde, is a winner who can keep everything in perspective. And while the losers exhibit their weaknesses, Torben Betts’ play makes us laugh out loud. The text gives the actors space to interact, in a way superbly directed by Sam Walters — this is a play written by an actor, and it flows beautifully.

Katie Hayes enters as the first guest, a tedious chatterbox named Karen in a purple crochet dress, but she is soon sidelined by Dan Starkey as a pint-sized, leftie intellectual conspiracy theorist named Simon, who seems to have answers aplenty until he loses it. He’s lonely and funny and needs a girlfriend, and when he sees a picture of Jess’s younger sister Annie on the fridge he purloins it.

Mat and Annie

She walks in later, gorgeous and confident, until you realise why her big sister has said she is very low on self-esteem. Tala Gouveia gives a perfect representation of this damaged young woman, so very determined to introduce her new sixty-year-old Shakespearean director boyfriend, Tony engagingly played by Timothy Block. She says he’s her fiancé, but he’s not as naïve as some of the others, and our hostess Jess sees through him right away.

Simon, Jess, and Karen

It all starts with Mat, short for Matthew, but spelled like doormat, the engagingly superficial partner for Jess. His charming insecurity was beautifully portrayed by Leon Ockenden. And it ends … well, go and see for yourself. There is love and destruction in the air, along with a mixture of verbal clumsiness and defiant accuracy, and the wit is both spoken and unspoken, as when Simon replaces the picture of Annie that he stole from the fridge.

Six wonderful actors, with superb direction, made for an unmissable evening. Performances continue until March 10 — 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.

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.

Recovery

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.

The Conspirators, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, September 2011

3 September, 2011

In April 1968 Soviet tanks rolled into Vaclav Havel’s home-town of Prague, and in 1971 he wrote this play about the difficulty of replacing a dictatorship without getting something worse. In the meantime, Colonel Gaddafi came to power in Libya, a land once controlled by a colonial power like the fictional country of this drama.

The Colonel, all photos by Robert Day

At the start, the prime minister’s secretary, Stein is held at police headquarters under the Colonel, a brutal and cunning man with a taste for sadism, both sexual and otherwise. Off-stage noises are heard: yelps from the torture room, presumably by Stein, and student demonstrations for his release. The prime minister, a gentleman in tailcoat and top hat, is a serious, ineffective and perplexed man, worried about the treatment of Stein’s medical conditions, and apparently unable to see the underlying plan of havoc presaging a crackdown that will see him out of office. As Stein caves in he gives them whatever wording they want in his confession, but the Colonel laughs at him and asks why he’s lying. No way could he come up with all this stuff on his own. He’s protecting a conspiracy — who are they?

Lucy Tregear as Helga

Yet the title of the play refers to a real group of conspirators, including Lucy Tregear’s charmingly sexy Helga, who enjoys relationships with both David Rintoul’s brilliantly erratic Colonel, and Paul Gilmour’s schlemiel of a Major, who heads the chiefs of staff, and can be persuaded to do anything stronger minds make him think is a good idea. These stronger heads are Helga and Christopher Ravenscroft’s carefully nuanced state prosecutor, Dikl, while comic relief is provided by Kieron Jecchinis as the censor, with his vulgar scoffing of sandwiches, occasional quaffing of brandy, and general stupidity. Other witty moments are a sado-masochistic scene between Helga and the Colonel, producing gasps from some audience members, and Dikl’s incompetent attempts to gain feminine support and sympathy, first from his secretary then from Helga with whom he once had an affair.

The Conspirators

Among the amateurish conspirators not even Helga can control the Colonel, whose forceful rhetoric seems unassailable, “Whom do we serve — the government or the people?” And, “Isn’t it better to protect the law — even if it means breaking it?” This play is surely drawn from Havel’s frustrations at the machinations of third raters whose incompetence leads to a power imposed from outside.

Yet this is neither Czechoslovakia nor Libya, and the Colonel talks of having lived in the jungle fighting the colonial power. The indeterminacy of location is a slight flaw and Havel considered it one of his weakest plays, but Sam Walters’ production does it very proud indeed, and the acting was excellent. Moreover, these performances coincide with rolling dramas going on in Libya and Syria, making this a theatrical experience well worth seeing.

Performances at the Orange Tree continue until October 1 — for details click here.