Miss Julie: **** (4 Stars)
Black Comedy: ***** (5 Stars)
Minerva, Chichester Festival Theatre - 15 July, 2014
Rebecca Lenkiewicz's adaptation of Miss Julie (originally written by August Strindberg) proves to be intense, intriguing and volatile. Rosalie Craig brilliantly portrays the eccentric, temperamental and demanding Miss Julie, daughter of the Count of the Manor house, (previously played by Maggie Smith at the Chichester Festival Theatre). Between her terrible tantrums, Craig shows the dangerous uncertainty of her own self worth. This comes to light as Jean (Sean Evans), a valet, takes full advantage as their forbidden love affair leads to the couple unable to continue living in the Count's manor house. Their plan to move to Northern Italy to run a hotel seems their only way of escape. Meanwhile, Kristen (Emma Handy), the cook, observes the madness of the situation, being the voice of reason and aptly shows the struggle the lower class.
Director, Jamie Glover, previously credited as an actor at CFT proves to know exactly how to please the audience as the Farm Workers' drunken dance was equally bawdy as it was a refreshing relief from the complications between Miss Julie and Jean's conflicting intentions.
The entire cast performed wonderfully and as the relationship between Miss Julie and Jean is at the core of the performance, both Craig and Evans should be credited for such a strong performance. Between Miss Julie's tantrums she shows how insecure and unsure she is of her own self worth as her submissive attitude toward Jean allows him to take full advantage of her. The chemistry between the actors was fascinating. A very strong performance by both the cast and creative team.
Following Peter Shaffer's prior success of Black Comedy at Chichester Festival Theatre, Director Jamie Glover, provides a fantastic evening where I left totally exhausted after laughing so hard for the entire performance. Glover's Black Comedy is the best comedy I have seen as I was continually laughing like a hyena throughout and close to tears on many occasions.
The stage is set in Brindsley Miller's (Paul Ready) apartment in mid 1960s South Kensington. When suddenly an electrical fuse blows and the characters are set in complete darkness. Glover had obviously spent a vast amount of time making sure the cast were realistically lost in the dark which each cast member did tremendously.
Ready's performance as Brindsley was fantastically hectic and a flawlessly terrible host at his cocktail party. As Brindsley awaits a millionaire, George Bamberger (Samuel Dutton) to arrive to purchase one of Brindsley's sculptures. Brindsley also has to conceal antique furniture from which he stole from his neighbour; Harold Gorringe (Shaun Evans) who was brilliantly snooty. Brindsley's girlfriend Carol Melkett (Robyn Addison) had an impressive squeaky voice, which added one more element to her fabulous character. Brindsley's elderly neighbour, Miss Furnival (Marcia Warren), stood out with her brilliant random drunken rant which had me rolling in my seat.
I wish I could say each character stood out without rewriting another cliché but truthfully they all did, each cast member had such a strong comedic presence; all I can suggest is that it is a must-see!
Miss Julie / Black Comedy are running at the Chichester Festival Theatre until 9 August - book here: http://www.cft.org.uk/5014/MISS-JULIE-BLACK-COMEDY/623
**** (4.5 Stars)
Minerva Theatre, Chichester - Friday 1 May, 2014
'Bitterly charming' is how I would describe Stevie By Hugh Whitemore. Yet it is equally a delight to witness such fantastic performances from the cast trio of Chris Larkin, Lynda Baron and the eponymous protagonist, Stevie, played by the enormously talented Zoë Wanamaker (who is also YMT's Patron!). Stevie’s pessimistic view of life and gritty humour is enormous fun; I couldn’t think of anyone better for the job than Wanamaker.
The play takes place in Stevie’s home at 1 Avondale Road, Palmers Green, London where she resides with Aunt (Lynda Baron). Stevie Smith, spends a lot of her time after work as a secretary, eating Battenberg cake and Ginger Nuts with her Aunt and writing poetry part-time. Her existence seems bleak and uninteresting to the naked eye yet her moving poetry shows pain and vulnerability as she reflects upon the comfort of her inevitable death.
The set is realistically cosy and welcoming with charred edges showing how Stevie’s personality would have seemed slightly 'rough around the edges'. Commendations have to be awarded to designer Simon Higlett for such a beautiful set.
Director, Christopher Morahan, aptly gives the script such wonderful justice and creates a brilliant night of dry and dark humour yet shows so much heart through the characters. The bitter-sweet ending left me with chills for the rest of the journey home, what a masterpiece of theatre!
The wonder of poetry is that it can spark discussions that can continue for hours on end, yet if poetry does not float your boat, the performances alone are worth seeing!
Stevie is playing at the Minerva, Chichester until May 24 - book your tickets here: http://www.cft.org.uk/5014/STEVIE/621
Photo: Alastair Muir
***** (5 Stars)
Birmingham Repertory Theatre - Monday 17 March, 2014
Telling a mesmerizing tale of love, courage and sacrifice Birdsong is the hit stage show based on Sebastian Faulks’ best-selling novel adapted for stage by Rachel Wagstaff.
The curtain rises to reveal what one can only describe as phenomenal set, enormous amounts of credit must be given to the arts and design team as the set presents the mood of the play from the very beginning. Over the course of the play, the set is used to its full potential, switching between a great living room and the harrowing trenches of the Great War.
The action throughout this play makes the production truly gripping. The distinct flashbacks from the trenches of the Western Front in the First World War and Amiens, France switch from one another seamlessly and create a true sense of life through the eyes of protagonist Stephen Wraysford. The flawless transitions shown would not have been possible however, without the extremely high quality of acting brought to the character from George Banks whose compelling performance throughout is deeply moving.
The use of lighting in the production is of very high standard, with any set changes being out of sight to the audience. Furthermore, the lighting highly emphasises the scenes in which a tunnel is featured making the moment both impressive and intriguing due the atmosphere created.
Each member of the company deserves praise for their work with each cast member delivering a truly realistic approach to their character. The on-stage chemistry between the company is more than evident as each of them work brilliantly in unison with one another.
Birdsong, directed brilliantly by Alastair Whatley marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War grasping every emotion a soldier would have felt on the battlefield. Receiving a standing ovation from the audience, this heart-wrenching, poignant and powerful piece of theatre may turn out to be one of the most memorable pieces of theatre to reach the stage.
Birdsong is currently on a UK Tour. For all the information click here: http://www.birdsongthetour.com
*** (3 Stars)
Richmond Theatre, London - Monday 3 March, 2014
Audiences coming to watch Nikolai Foster’s interpretation of Morris Panych’s The Dishwashers have no doubt been drawn to see David Essex take to the stage once more, this time in the rather unglamorous role of a tough but weathered dishwasher contemplating life and all it has to offer.
He is joined by Rik Makarem as Emmett the vexed but enthusiastic “new boy”, a once high-flying banker who has fallen from grace, and Andrew Jarvis as Moss, a terminally ill old man desperately trying to cling on to his job and the only thing he holds dear.
As the curtain rises on Matthew Wright’s impressively detailed and true to life set, the audience are under no illusion as to where they are to be spending the next two hours – the downstairs of a fancy restaurant home to those hard-working but often forgotten titular characters so integral to a restaurant’s success.
However, it is a shame that, at times, this brilliantly-crafted set is the most attention-grabbing feature of the performance, as the pace occasionally slows to one too akin to a real dishwashing environment and is only exacerbated by a lack of both character and plot developments.
Nevertheless, there are some strong performances; David Essex mostly accomplishes the balance between humour and poignancy, and his convincing stage presence is easily matched by the comically sound Andrew Jarvis, whose characterisation is nothing short of superb.
However, be it his performance or his character’s writing, there is something not quite right about Rik Makarem’s Emmett, whose potential comic moments seem mostly to fall flat and who comes across as a little irritating – but then perhaps that is the intention.
Therein lies the real problem with the play; for all its funny and challenging moments, it is hard to get a solid grip on just what Panych is trying to say.
There are most definitely comments on social class and the human condition, but unless one is really attuned to them, these slightly unclear messages may well be swallowed by the slow pace and absence of plot developments.
For those who can keep with it, The Dishwashers has some interesting insights to offer and some thought-provoking moments to think on, but unfortunately, for others hoping for more of a journey, it may well be as dull as dishwater.
The Dishwashers is currently on a UK Tour. Check out the details here: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-dishwashers/
***** (5 Stars)
Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent - Monday 3 March, 2014
This upbeat, energetic and thoroughly entertaining Jukebox Musical tells the story of the legendary Rock ‘n’ Roll star Buddy Holly’s rapid rise to fame in the 1950s, following his journey to make the music he wanted, his way.
The cast of exceedingly talented actor/musicians, fronted by Roger Rowley as an exceedingly convincing young Buddy, effortlessly pulls off slick changes of scenes and characters, working well together to create a piece that is both very funny and heartfelt. The show confronts issues such as racism in America during this time and what it was like for Buddy Holly, a geeky-looking white man, to be so successful writing and recording ‘black’ music. The live music generates the rich, authentic sound of the recording studio sessions and the live shows Buddy Holly and The Crickets played to great effect.
Buddy features classic songs such as “That’ll Be The Day”, “Peggy Sue” and “Johnny B Goode” as well as “Shout”, “Chantilly Lace” and “La Bamba”. If the audience were not tapping their toes throughout, they were certainly out of their seats and dancing by the finale as the second act is almost entirely performed as a concert in which the audience are encouraged to sing and dance along. The lighting design by Darren Coopland is especially impressive in this section as the vivid and vibrant display really creates the atmosphere of a 1950s touring Rock ‘n’ Roll show.
Although the Buddy Holly musical back catalogue may have evaded the ears of younger generations, it nevertheless does not diminish just how entertaining and catchy his hits were. Buddy is 2 hours 25 minutes of feel-good energy and excitement that is infectious, no matter what your age or experience of Rock 'n' Roll music. A must see!
Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story will be showing at the Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent until Saturday 8 March. Buy your tickets here: http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/regent-theatre/