Review: Perfect Match, Watford Palace Theatre

“Oh it’s online? It’s an online thing? You should’ve said…”

Part of Watford Palace Theatre’s Ideal World Season, Gary Owen’s new play Perfect Match looks at the role that the internet has to play in our relationships – whether forming new ones through cast-iron guaranteed dating services or shaking up long-existing partnerships that may or may not have gone stale. Anna and Joe have been together for nine years and Lorna and Aaron six, but when a computer algorithm declares Anna and Aaron to be perfect soulmates, they meet up for a dirty sojourn in Stevenage, declare the connection is indeed real and decide to ditch their other halves and elope to Gretna Green. 

Kelly Hotten’s Anna is a wonderful combination of sweetness and steel – caringly concerned that no-one is too upset but absolutely determined to get her own way. And Tom Berish is often hilarious as the dumbly delicious Aaron, most amusing in his blokish behaviour. But dumping someone else for your perfect match isn’t quite as easy as all that and the pair, in their vastly different ways have to extricate themselves from the lives of the people with whom they have spent years and Joe and Lorna are not about to make it easy for them. Eva Jane Willis’ professional debut is a vivid delight as the brutally blunt Lorna and Ken Nwosu’s Joe quietly captures the sympathetic centre of the story. Continue reading “Review: Perfect Match, Watford Palace Theatre”

Review: The School for Scandal, Park Theatre

“I bear no malice to the people I abuse”

Sparkling reinterpretations of 18th century comedies have become something of an annual treat from Jessica Swale’s Red Handed Theatre company and following on from the delights of the Celia Imrie-starring The Rivals, the remounting of Hannah Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem and last year’s excellent The Busy Body, it is now the turn of Sheridan’s The School for Scandal to be primped and preened in their deliciously inimitable style. So for those as yet uninitiated to their ways, prepare for witty musical interludes and warmly embracing audience interaction as a vivacious ensemble romp through this comedy of manners.

Led by the machinations of the vicious-tongued Lady Sneerwell – Belinda Lang in epically glam form – Sheridan’s plot winds through a portion of the higher echelons of London society and exposes the gossip-fuelled hypocrisy at the heart of it. Lady Sneerwell wants others to suffer the loss of reputation she has; Sir Peter Teazle is concerned about the flightiness of his flirtatious younger wife; Sir Oliver Surface wants to test the mettle of his two nephews who stand to inherit his vast fortune; and above all, everyone wants to be the first to tell the juiciest pieces of gossip with the most salacious details.

It is these scenes which glitter the best – Michael Bryher’s Sir Benjamin Backbite and Buffy Davis’ Mrs Candour delight in outdoing each other with the latest tidbits and Kirsty Besterman’s Lady Teazle gives as good as she gets, even as she sees the effect of the ridicule on her husband, a battered if not quite elderly enough Daniel Gosling. But there’s much fun too with the errant nephews. Harry Kerr’s ruffled and raffish Charles can’t hide his innate goodness even at the heights of his carousing, and Tom Berish’s Joseph is just excellent as the seductively handsome one that everyone likes, little suspecting his most devious nature.    

The production is always light-hearted and fun – a trick with a book is particularly well played, the programme is a work of genius and Fi Russell’s costumes are a bejewelled array of lush fabric – but there’s also a sureness to Swale’s direction as she constantly refines and sharpens her approach. Laura Forrest-Hay once again contributes original music rather than pastiches of pop songs, the portrait gallery ditty and the raucous lark in the park number add to the general feel of a delightful romp, unafraid to play it to the back of the (admittedly intimate) Park Theatre but crucially never takes itself too seriously.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)

Booking until 7th July


Originally written for The Public Reviews

Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Richmond Theatre

“That seeming to be most which we indeed least are”

Despite being one of Shakespeare’s more notorious plays, The Taming of the Shrew has enjoyed a long and varied performance history as productions seek to try to present this difficult tale of female subservience in a way that is acceptable to audiences. It has proved trickier though in modern times to square the misogynistic circle and so directors often find themselves upping the innovative ante to unearth interpretations which will prove satisfyingly revelatory. What this often means in practice though is that a high concept is adopted which offers insight into part of the story whilst the rest is left straining to fit in. Lucy Bailey is the latest to try and tame the Shrew here for the RSC in a production which has played a season in Stratford and is now on a short tour of the UK, currently here in Richmond.

The angle that she chooses to focus on is the Induction, the framing device that sets the story in its context – this is all just a performance being put on by a rowdy bunch of friends to delude the drunken fool Christopher Sly. Sly – a bumptious revealing turn from Nick Holder – is kept on stage throughout most of the first half and in some ways, this almost convinces us that what we are watching is but a drunken fantasy. But he is gradually phased out of the show, and so the apparent importance of being reminded that this isn’t real is stripped away and the second half played largely straight as a story that suddenly is to be taken more seriously. Continue reading “Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Richmond Theatre”