Posts Tagged ‘Sam Walters’

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.

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.

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.

Reading Hebron, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, February 2011

15 February, 2011

On February 25, 1994 the Jewish festival of Purim fell during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and an Israeli settler named Baruch Goldstein assassinated worshippers in the mosque over the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The significance of the religious holy days is noted in the play, and it’s also worth remarking that while Ramadan is governed by the Islamic calendar, which moves back by about eleven days each year, Purim is dated by the Jewish calendar and is always in March or late February. It does not normally occur during Ramadan. But that is not the only significant aspect of the date, because in 1993 Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo accords on behalf of Israel, and tensions were high. He was assassinated in 1995.

After the 1994 massacre, the Israeli government formed a commission of enquiry to determine whether Goldstein acted alone or with accomplices, and that’s where Jason Sherman starts, and ends, his play. Its main protagonist, however, is a Canadian Jew named Nathan Abramowitz, who is on a personal mission to criticise Israel and recover some self-respect for his own somewhat-lapsed Jewishness. His mother wonders why he won’t bring his sons to the Passover Seder, and won’t he please arrive a little earlier to give her a hand, particularly with so many guests coming!

Abramowitz is confused, manic, and unconsciously angry with aspects of his own life. He goes to Israel, for the first time, and appears before the committee, with his head in the clouds, saying that “Israel is an abstraction”. Is he crazy? Yes, but not dangerous, like Goldstein who was playing out something from ancient Jewish history. It was Purim, explained in the book of Esther. She, whose name is the same as the Babylonian goddess of love, Ishtar, forestalls the planned annihilation of the Jews in Babylonia. Those who read the story will meet Mordecai, whose name is taken from the chief god of Babylon, Marduk. These things are deep with significance, and deeply significant things can lead to murderous actions.

Abramowitz, however, is shallow, though very well played by David Antrobus, ably supported by the rest of the cast: Peter Guinness, Ben Nathan, Amber Agha and Esther Ruth Elliot, playing numerous parts. I particularly liked Ben Nathan, but everyone did well in this intense portrayal of human interactions, directed by Sam Walters. There were some wonderful moments, such as one of Abramowitz’s children saying, “You can feel compassion for people half way around the world, but you can’t feel it for people half way across the room!”

Ben Nathan with David Antrobus as Abramowitz

There is no interval, the action is non-stop, the telephone keeps ringing, but somehow the history comes through, as when Abramowitz’s mother calls him and talks trivialities, but occasionally mentions Hebron: once to say Abraham bought a cave there, again to say the Muslims built a mosque over the cave, and again to mention the massacre. The Passover Seder, with the four sons, also helps in giving a thread through the action, and various well-known people appear at the table, and one of them says to Abramowitz, “You think you’re the wise son, but you’re the son who does not even know how to ask a question”.

This production is well suited to the intimacy of the Orange Tree Theatre, and performances continue until March 12 — for more details click here.