Review: Edmond De Bergerac, Richmond Theatre

Don’t you love farce? Well turns out I rather did like Alexis Michalik’s Edmond De Bergerac at the Richmond Theatre

“But will the audience come?”

I do love a comedy that unexpectedly makes me laugh a lot. It is a genre, particularly when it leans towards farce, that can be a tricky one to get right and there’s nothing worse than being the only one stony-faced in a theatre full of people roaring their heads off (qv me at One Man Two Guvnors, or most Feydeau plays). But sometimes it works, sometimes there’s a Noises Off in there, and treading a similar-ish path is Alexis Michalik’s Edmond De Bergerac as it tracks the on- and off-stage shenanigans of a theatre company whilst playwright Edmond Rostand struggles to write Cyrano de Bergerac for them.

And I have to say that I chortled merrily through Roxana Silbert’s production, which has popped around the country after a run at Birmingham Rep. It is thoroughly silly, doesn’t take itself seriously for a single moment, and is consequently most enjoyable if just a touch overlong. Freddie Fox’s Rostand is a struggling writer whose last show was a flop and with the bills mounting, is blocked. His artistic juices are only stimulated when his pal Léo commissions him to write a suite of love letters to seduce a new would-be paramour on his behalf and the spark of a new play ignites as life imitates art imitates life and opening night fast approaches. Continue reading “Review: Edmond De Bergerac, Richmond Theatre”

#CastingbyClowns – I celebrate as Cate Blanchett and Lucy Cohu return to the stage

Such amazing casting news came our way yesterday, with not one but two of my absolute faves returning to the London stage in the coming months. The starrier of the two is Cate Blanchett, who will appear with Stephen Dillane in a brand new play by Martin Crimp’s directed by Katie Mitchell at the National Theatre in January 2019. The play is enigmatically entitled When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other – Twelve Variations on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. (The torture presumably being the absolute scrum there’ll be to get tickets, as the show is going into the NT’s most intimate space, the Dorfman.)

But matching Blanchett in my personal pantheon in Lucy Cohu, an actor whom I’ve longed admired since she broke my heart in the double whammy of Torchwood – Children of Earth on the TV and Speaking in Tongues on the stage. She’s joining the cast of Florian Zeller’s The Height of the Storm, alongside Anna Madeley and Amanda Drew. And given that the cast already contains the previously announced Jonathan Pryce and Dame Eileen Atkins, this ought to be a good’un. That shows arrives at the Wyndham’s Theatre in October after a brief tour of Richmond, Cambridge and Bath. Continue reading “#CastingbyClowns – I celebrate as Cate Blanchett and Lucy Cohu return to the stage”

Review: Iolanthe, Richmond Theatre

A much welcome revival for Sasha Regan’s all-male Iolanthe, bringing Gilbert and Sullivan to Richmond Theatre as part of a UK tour

“What’s the use of being half a fairy?”

Delving into deep into your wardrobe can get you into all sorts of bother. With CS Lewis, you could end up in the wintry woods of Narnia and with Sasha Regan, you might find yourself in the dress-up fantasy world of light operetta. Of all of her all-male Gilbert and Sullivan productions, Iolanthe is the one which I remember most fondly (its transfer to Wilton’s Music Hall perfectly done) so the news that it was the choice for this year’s revival for a UK tour left me tripping hither and thither in excitement. 

And though I was a little apprehensive to revisit so beloved a production, this Iolanthe has stood up well. Mark Smith’s choreography with its suggestions of sign language for fairy speak, Stewart Charlesworth’s design making full use of the jumble box aesthetic, and Regan’s astute direction milking a show that’s more than a century old for all of its considerable comic potential and finding room for her own innovations as well. With MD Richard Baker controlling the music from his solo piano, this remains an arresting take on your G&S. Continue reading “Review: Iolanthe, Richmond Theatre”

Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male Mikado, Richmond

(c) Scott Rylander

“They are not young ladies…”

If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Sasha Regan alighted on a winning formula with her stripped-back all-male takes on Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas and has toured the likes of The Pirates of Penzance and HMS Pinafore the length and breadth of the country and even to Australia. So it is little surprise to see her turn to The Mikado (or The Town of Titipu) to see if lightning can strike again with joyous shout and ringing cheer.

The production is set in the grounds of a 1950s-ish school camping trip, a canny move which neatly sidesteps some of the Orientalism issues and refocuses G+S’s satire on the English political establishment. And with the score for solo piano confidently played by musical director Richard Baker, the harmonious meld of the 16-strong company sounds like a dream, and don’t look half bad either delivering Holly Hughes’ effervescent choreography. Continue reading “Review: Sasha Regan’s All Male Mikado, Richmond”

Review: La Strada, Richmond

“Ma che faccia buffa che hai! Ma sei sicura di essere una donna? Sembri un carciofo”

Most reviews of La Strada will doubtless start with a potted history of the film but I have to be entirely honest with you and say that despite its illustrious Oscar-winning status, it’s not one that has ever crossed my path. Apologies to Federico Fellini and co for that, and apologies to you readers too, for I see little point in pretending otherwise for the sake of some supposed authenticity.

So I come to La Strada with entirely fresh eyes but no small measure of excitement too for it is the latest show to spring from the extraordinary well of theatricality that is Sally Cookson. And with a writer-in-the-room devising with the company instead of a conventional book scribe, and a ensemble ever-present onstage made up of an international cast of multi-disciplinarians at hand, it is unmistakably and unforgettably Cookson.  Continue reading “Review: La Strada, Richmond”

Review: The Dresser, Richmond/Duke of York’s

“Hate the critics? I have nothing but compassion for them. How can one hate the crippled, the mentally deficient, and the dead?”

The outdated ramblings of a doddery old man – funny how art can reflect life… Any opinion I might have had about Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser inevitably comes tainted with his apparent inability to open his mouth without spouting some kind of crap or other. Last month it was claiming casting women in male Shakespearean roles as “astonishingly stupid”, earlier this year it was using his will to ban women from playing the lead role in this very play. At 81, he’s clearly of a different generation but I’m certainly not inclined to indulge him in a way one might one’s own casually intolerant older relations.

His 1980 play The Dresser is based on his own experiences as a personal stagehand to actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit and closely too. Wolfit was known for his wartime Shakespearean tours, particularly his King Lear, and so Harwood gives us an increasingly decrepit thesp (Ken Stott) on an interminable regional rep tour in the midst of the Second World War. ‘Sir’ is due onstage (in Lear, natch) and his long-suffering dresser Norman (Reece Shearsmith) is the only one who can get him there, for he is caught in the throes of mental and physical disintegration. Continue reading “Review: The Dresser, Richmond/Duke of York’s”

Review: After Miss Julie, Richmond

“Don’t confuse my appetites”

After a momentous political decision, some people celebrate whilst others ponder the uncertainty of their situation. You don’t have to strain too hard to find touches of resonance in the opening scenes of After Miss Julie even if the subject matter is ultimately quite different, the febrile atmosphere of that moment of the beginning of huge political change proving to be recognisable no matter the period.
Patrick Marber’s reimagining of August Strindberg’s tragedy Miss Julie moves the story from Sweden in 1888 to England in 1945, maintaining an environment where the class struggle is real but is on the cusp of great change after Labour’s landslide victory. And in the country house that her father has left for the night, the aristocratic Miss Julie has set her sights on a cheeky pas de deux with her father’s chauffeur John, scandalising the whole household with this transgression of the social order.

Leading the power games yet never quite in full control of them, Call the Midwife’s Helen George takes on the role of Miss Julie with real emotion and elegance. Her Strictly Come Dancing experience comes in useful for a beautifully realised dance sequence where she advances her designs on John but as she stumbles tipsily into the kitchen to where he’s retreated, we see just how brittle and damaged she is, capricious and dangerous and girlish in every sweep of her long limbs.
But not only is John the wrong class, he’s also affianced to Christine, the cook whose territory is being invaded, and as he surrenders to Miss Julie’s sexual games, the war-weary and newly politically aware John tries to cling onto what he knows. The handsome Richard Flood plays out this conflict well, exerting physical power over his mistress to counter the psychological power she wields over him as his boss and Amy Cudden is quietly fearsome as the church-going, no-nonsense Christine. 
In the realism of Coin Richmond’s detailed kitchen set, Anthony Banks’ touring production is sure-footed until a late slide towards melodrama. The business with the budgie is poorly executed (no need for any Young Vic-style disclaimers here) and things do become somewhat overwrought rather than genuinely affecting as we reach a dark climax. Still it’s a powerful examination of the intersection of sex and class and power and politics and how little we’ve changed, even whilst seeming to change a lot. 

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Nobby Clarke
Booking until 16th July, then touring to Milton Keynes

Review: Clybourne Park, Richmond Theatre

“Some would say change is inevitable”

It was fascinating to go back to Bruce Norris’ multi-award-winning play Clybourne Park more than five years after its London debut both at the Royal Court and then in the West End, particularly since I’d finally gotten round to seeing the play that it riffs on in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Daniel Buckroyd’s Made in Colchester production originated at the Mercury there last month and pleasingly will tour the UK throughout May, significantly extending the reach of this sharp comedy/

Clybourne Park is the Chicago suburb to which Hansberry’s Younger family intend to move in her 1959 play, its residents committee reacting by trying to buy them off to preserve what they call their ‘common background’ when what they mean is its all-white racial make-up. Norris explores both sides of this by setting his first half in the house the Youngers are trying to buy in 1959 but then skipping forward 50 years after the interval to reveal a changed neighbourhood, riven by the same problems. Continue reading “Review: Clybourne Park, Richmond Theatre”

Review: Tell Me On A Sunday, Richmond Theatre

“Long lost feelings, stir inside me”

Like many a child of the 80s, or so I like to imagine, a cassette of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s greatest hits was never too far from the car stereo, and so I’ve long been familiar with Tell Me On A Sunday and long been a fan thereof. Clearly others feel this way as the enduring popularity of the show means it has never been too far from our stages, with this latest iteration originating at Newbury’s Watermill before an extensive UK tour.

Perhaps with this sense of a classic in mind, Paul Foster’s production sticks with the original setting of the late 1970s and in Jodie Prenger, finds the ideal performer to convey the multiple romantic trials of this Englishwoman in New York – David Woodhead’s simple design evoking the period setting without overemphasising it. Prenger’s old-school charms suit the role perfectly, there’s something almost perverse in how watchable she is when playing heart-broken but crucially she invests Emma with an indefatigable quality of spirit that never seems to be truly broken. Continue reading “Review: Tell Me On A Sunday, Richmond Theatre”

Review: The Glass Menagerie, Richmond

“People are not so dreadful when you know them”

And so to the second of three The Glass Menageries in a month for me. Ellen McDougall’s production for Headlong has already played extensive runs in Leeds and Liverpool before nipping down to Richmond and Warwick for a week each and I was glad of the opportunity to see this most intriguing of directors (Henry the Fifth, Idomeneus, Anna Karenina) take on Tennessee Williams’ classic memory play. With ‘a frustrated mother, a daughter lost in her imagination, and a son intent on rebellion’, all this family needs to tip it right over the edge is an inopportune visit from a gentleman caller.

Whereas Samuel Hodges layered up the Wingfields’ existence with a scrapbook full of video references and visual cues, McDougall goes the opposite way in stripping the play to its bare bones, excavating existence through bodies alone with minimal props. Fly Davis’ design suspends the black box of Tom’s mind above water in which naturally only he can paddle, a space in which his memories play out or are perhaps trapped, like the characters themselves. A staircase at the rear leads only into darkness, there’s no real escape possible from the drudgery of life with all its anecdotes repeated ad nauseam.  Continue reading “Review: The Glass Menagerie, Richmond”