Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Review Le Grand Mort

Le Grand Mort
by Stephen Clark

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

Like the comedy duo of the 1970s and 80s Little and Large, there are apparently two sizes of morts. La petite mort meaning - hide your eyes, dear reader, of delicate constitution - an orgasm. And then, rather ungrammatically, there is le grand mort.

A quick google reveals le grand mort here and here meaning the big exit, death, but it seems it needs la petite mort in this double act. One defines the other. Of course, we theatre afficianados aka blasé snobby intellectuals are well accustomed to the ambivalent Shakespearean meaning of dying!😉

After  that circumlocutory linguistic diversion, TLT and her little sidekick with the big  - um -  theatrical heart will now cut to the chase. What do your own theatregoing pair  think of Julian Clary's performance in this two hander (apologies to the other acting half James Nelson-Joyce for this shameless piece of celebrity lionisation)?

Considering this is a verbose, red herring of a play, Mr Clary acquits himself elegantly, remembering his lines and managing to cook an aromatic pasta  puttanesca in a frying pan all at the same time. 

Yet the play, by the late Stephen Clark better known for his musical theatre librettos and lyrics, is a distinct oddity which surely is a first draft rather than a polished play?

Played out in a gleaming stainless steel kitchen set designed by Justin Nardella, Clary's at first unnamed character is preparing for his prospective dinner guest and for our delectation. Yes, he chops and he slices and peels while regaling us - in verse - with his own circumlocutory diversion about voyeurism, fetishism and necrophilia.

TLT and her companion though almost let out a joyful toot when his dinner guest - James Nelson-Joyce - finally arrived and the play GOT ON WITH THE STORY (sort of). 

From then on, it was a case of guess who's coming to dinner because, by the end of the play, TLT & co was still trying to work out the who, whys and wherefores. 

Finally, we could only come to the conclusion that this was some kind of writer's or actor's exercise about lying, storytelling, sex, death and murder which should have remained in the rehearsal room.

All of which is a shame because Clary possesses considerable stage presence and his voice has a clear, versatile tone, all of which deserves a much better vehicle. 

His camp star quality is of course for many the main attraction. However his smooth, bespectacled, sometimes more subdued, demeanour gave a glimpse of an actor who could be cast against type.

Nelson-Joyce is fine, as far as it goes, as the foil, Tim, who apparently can hold his own in intellectual role-play. His Liverpuddlian accent at first caused your theatregoing pair to wonder whether this was a riff on Brian Epstein and a lover. Then, when the talk turned to murder, Jo Orton and Kenneth Halliwell.

In other words, and my oh my there were lots of words!, a whole gamut of popular, arty farty, cod history and literary referenccs strung together. Lucien Freud got a mention, Bacon got a mention, allthough luckily it eschewed a frying pan pun about freud bacon 😉.

Of course Freud, especially, was famous for his nudes and potential punters may want to be alerted that full frontal male nudity is briefly part of the action.

Director Christopher Renshaw imposes a clarity of structure on muddled proceedings aided by Jamie Platt's lighting and Ed Lewis's filmic soundscape.

It  might be a fun night to share a pasta puttanesca and glass of wine with friends and then go and see the show. So Le Grand Mort may still be a recipe for success!  However for TLT it remained a potential crime mystery play more "Strewth!" than "Sleuth" and it's a lower range amber light.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Review Rebel Angel

Rebel Angel
By Angus Graham-Campbell

Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man

It's a tale of medical students as young bucks, body snatchers, crude amputations and surgeons, career choices, money lending, literary men and - oh yes - lines of exquisite poetry.

Writer and director Angus Graham-Campbell has reworked for the stage  his 1995 radio play with a quick-witted,  intricate account of poet John Keats (Jonny P Taylor) at a crossroads in his life.

Keats trained as a surgeon apothecary in the early 19th century when he caroused with fellow students, but also fell among literary men and then famously wrote his verse.

Rebel Angel skilfully manages to steer clear of hagiography, with some gently inserted barbs on Keats's infatuation with literary circles and even, heavens above, theatre.  The obstacles set up by his purse-string holding guardian may on first blush be the stifling of literary genius, yet finally seem like a preparation for life and literary battles.

The audience sits within the confines of the horseshoe-shaped Old Operating Theatre in the attic of St Thomas's Church and is flung into the story. Watchful Keats holds down a young boy (Theo Peters who shares the role with Ben Holborrow), soothing the youngster as he assists the master surgeon (Peter Broad) cutting off his crushed leg with unintended disastrous results.

The play turns into a thought-provoking piece that doesn't follow all the expected routes into the life of the young poet, sometimes subtly jumping out of its 19th century framework with a glimpse of life now.

The immediate denial of blame would be familiar, dare TLT say it, to some modern day insured surgeons and the General Medical Council. However there's a laconic wit in the pithy exchanges and dramatic structure, allowing the audience, without detailed knowledge, to become engrossed in the atmosphere and mood shifts.

The raucous, easy manner of the would be surgeons in their embroidered waistcoats is captured by Tom Palmer, Max Marcq and Fred Fergus.

The young Keats's attitude towards the women in his life is ingeniously not always portrayed directly but through a juxtaposition of clearly defined Dickensian-like female characters (all played by Polly Edsell), ranging from the sentimental to the vaguely satirical.

This is a compelling pageant of the both underlying savagery and tenderness of young men learning how to manoeuvre in life to find their métier. Meanwhile the older heads, for better or for worse and for their own purposes, seem to have a grasp of the younger generation's psychology, if not a total control of their destiny.

The styling of the characters and costumes feel authentic and there is superb nuanced work from lighting designer Matthew Evered, as well as well-pitched sound from Matt Fischel.

Occasionally the doubling of actors leads to a mild confusion but this is usually quickly cleared up in a line swiftly identifying the character. It may even be deliberate with the medical and literary worlds shadowing each other although it does feel a bit clunky.

There are a few lacks besides this. The audience, for example, could do with knowing a little more, in a succinct way, about the money lending background. TLT needed to look it up and it gave added pith to the Latin inscription on the theatre's wall - "Miseratione non mercede", "For compassion, not money" .

Folks may also want to bring a cushion to sit on rather than remain on the hard wooden planks of the viewing ledges where apprentice surgeons once stood!

TLT enjoyed the show, although she did have an argument with the narrow spiral staircase on the way up! 😥😉 The Old Operating Theatre itself with its medical exhibits is a fascinating venue and the play was well worth the effort.

It turns out the playwright and director Graham-Campbell also teaches and cares for the welfare of public school students. TLT feels knowing this gives an added dimension to Rebel Angel's Keats and his circle. Altogether this neatly embroidered bildungsroman of a play gets a TLT amber/green light.

Review Trouble In Mind

Trouble In Mind
by Alice Childress

Black And Blue

Earlier this year, an entertaining and thought-provoking new play by a young American writer riffed from a modern perspective on racist stereotypes in a 19th century play, An Octoroon, considered controversial in its time.

The new play seemed original and striking but playwright Alice Childress's 1955 drama Trouble In Mind is in many ways a much braver piece, taking on contemporary theatre and movie stereotypes of the 1950s during the time of civil rights turmoil and the Hollywood blacklist [sic].

Wiletta Mayer (Tanya Moodie) had and still has dreams of stardom on her own terms. She's a veteran of stage and screen dramas and musicals  - in minor roles defined by her colour and the perameters of roles allocated to black actors by even the most liberal part of the theatrical and film establishment.

But Wiletta turns from compliance to increasing anger during rehearsals for a misguided if well-intentioned anti-lynching play, focussing also on the right to vote.  Chaos in Belleville is directed by WASPish haughty Al Manners (Jonathan Slinger) who seems blind to the insulting portrayal of the play-within-a-play's black characters.

Childress's backstage comedy drama was a groundbreaking piece of its time, not only grappling with race but gender and the treatment of actors in a precarious profession dominated by money from several different directions.

It acutely observes the minutiae of reheasal room politics with the swallowed responses to slights and the power play. Indeed the exchanged glances and desperation endured in silence make it a very televisual play - something which seems to be acknowledged with recorded canned audience applause in a satirical side swipe in the latter half of Trouble In Mind.

Laurence Boswell's production is a transfer to London from Bath with several roles re-cast, athough Tanya Moodie reprises the part of  the actress with the Germanic sounding name, Wiletta Mayer, in a carefully calibrated central performance.

Seeing this in preview, there was a sense that perhaps the play and ensemble needed to bed in on the Print Room At The Coronet stage, although the individual performances pick out every nuance in a play that cleverly mixes broad brush and method acting styles.

After all, a new member of the Belleville cast, John Nevins (Ncuti Gatwa) has, he says, been going to acting classes.

He hardly heeds the warning of experienced Wiletta that the white directors prefer to think of black actors as "natural", and by implication uneducated, performers.

It's an ingenious dramatic debate about theatre types, in all senses of the word, with even the white-haired Irish doorman (Pip Donaghy) sliding into type but explaining another legacy inherited from colonialism.  

For the black performers the prospects are limited. The mutual humorous teasing between Wilmetta and Millie (Faith Alabi) about this has a bitter edge. Millie, says Wiletta, has played all the flowers in the garden, Petunia, Chrysanthemum, Gardenia, while Millie bats back with "And you've done the jewels ... Crystal, Pearl, Opal ..."

Meanwhile the fellow veteran of racist typecasting and manoeuvring, Sheldon, is also constantly wary. Both Wiletta and Sheldon, who are cast as a black mammy and her sharecropper husband,  try to warn actor John not to get too familiar with the director's choice of female lead, pretty privileged white acting ingénue Judy (Daisy Boulton), straight from Yale.

Geoff Leesley  gets under the skin of an old guard actor who teeters on the verge of racism, as much because his life revolves around words put into his mouth as a wish to blank out anything that may interfere with his career.

There's able support from the uncomprehending but ambitious stage manager (Andrew Alexander) and a deft set design from Polly Sullivan with  the director Manners disappearing into the upstairs office with actress Judy.

Trouble In Mind is a sophisticated, finely wrought and humane play about crude times and attitudes still recognizable, even if it feels like period piece. There are a few lags but the layers of artifice and the reality of the situation come through on many levels. For a play and production  absorbingly and fiercely twisting up racial and professional concerns, it's a /green light.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Review The Revlon Girl

The Revlon Girl
by Neil Anthony Docking

Making It Up

On a rainy day in 1966, one of seven coal waste slag heaps, piled up on a stream above the mining village of Aberfan, slid down the hill, burying, amongst others, the young pupils in the local primary school.

There was a tribunal enquiry and, no doubt, the authorities vowed that lessons would be learned. But below the surface of bureaucratic structures and media hubbub, there are the individual stories of the surviving villagers.

Some of the bereaved mothers formed a support network, meeting regularly at a local hotel and, after a while, organising events to bring some kind of normality back into their lives.

The Revlon Girl is inspired by one such event, the visit of a cosmetics' company representative. Playwright Neil Anthony Docking has turned this into the premise for a play now running at London's Park Theatre.  

Whatever the facts of this visit, The Revlon Girl, while well acted, uneasily mixes real events with fictional scenarios in a piece shaped more like a movie than a stage play.

Four mothers, peaceable Siân (Charlotte Gray),  upwardly mobile Jean (Zoë Harrison), superstitious Marilyn (Michelle McTernan) and wisecracking Rona (Bethan Thomas) are the first to arrive for the talk and demonstration by a doll-like representative (Antonia Kinlay) from American firm Revlon.

As the evening progresses, the veneer cracks and despair and home truths threaten even the solidarity of women whose children have shared the same terrible fate.

Dealing with real life events, especially where those affected are still alive, needs care to strike the correct balance between what really happened and the imaginings of the playwright to bring psychological insight and plausibility.

There are times when authentic voices emerge, an agonized  speech by Rona, dissecting in searing detail the vested interests involved in the tragedy and its aftermath chief amongst these.

Nevertheless, The Revlon Girl is marred on stage by movie tropes and sometimes sitcom-like stereotypes.

This sits awkwardly with far better written more powerful moments which seem out of sync with the rest of the play and make the piece feel cut and pasted together rather than created as an organic story.

It's noticeable that details of the real life visit of the Revlon rep are not outlined in the programme. Nobody is named as being the rep and there are no memories of anybody involved quoted.

This also sat awkwardly for TLT as the play's blurb states it is based on true events. The theatre programme gives only the briefest of details and TLT can find no reference to such a visit outside this play. The details may be true but the lack of solid background in the play does invite questions.

Indeed, TLT's companion wondered why it was a Revlon rep, rather than an Avon representative,  a well known part of 1960s' life bringing American make up glamour to people's homes and allowing women to earn a living.

A look on the internet only found mention of the women's self help group and the hotel meeting. The play itself doesn't set up where the women are meeting and why, apart from an unseen organiser having invited the make up firm rep.

Even allowing for artistic licence, the play appears to invent details to illustrate the supposed psychological state of the women, but some of these inventions feel misjudged.

The title is The Revlon Girl with no mention of Aberfan and it does feel like a true story shoehorned into a harshly stereotypical template. The facts may be correct, but they are introduced rather than explored. 
Nevertheless there's good work by a strong cast doing their best with the often clunky dialogue and contrived sequences, making an impact when the writing becomes more compelling with factual and emotional truths emerging. 

The production is nicely styled with costumes from Beryl Thomas and Selectspecs.com and wigs by Claire Pritchard-Jones, giving a visceral sense of the period.

The Revlon Girl is strongly influenced by period works such as Made In Dagenham. However it also sometimes veers away from the Aberfan story in a strange fashion, moving into American made-for-televison movie territory.

Indeed TLT could imagine with only a few tweaks a standard feel good purely fictional film where an American make up  saleswoman drives into a town affected by tragedy, determined to make a difference with an arc going through a gamut of emotions from hostility to eventual mutual understanding.

The play even has a few Americanisms which feel unlikely in a 1960s' Welsh village, the influence of cinema at that time notwithstanding.

Yet there is a hint with another out of sync fantastical sequence at the end that perhaps the shoehorning of a real life tragedy into a movie trope is the point the play is making.

The Revlon rep suddenly in monologue comes out with her own motivation in volunteering to come to Aberfan. The women oddly seem to defer to her individual tragedy, or at least there is a specious implication that tragedies can be compared and equalized.

The direction by Maxine Evans and the lighting of Chris Barrett imply a deliberate fantasy but the moment is thrown away.

It's almost as if the writer and the production have the material but there needs to be different emphases to bring out the juxtapositions and meaning. As it is, this may work better on screen but in this particular stage version, it's another jarring change of tone.

Last year marked 50 years since a generation was scarred and almost wiped out by a preventable tragedy at Aberfan. With the Grenfell Tower alleged health and safety negligence, a history of residents' fears ignored and a costly inquiry underway, it's hard for anyone to see how lessons have ever been learned.

The Revlon Girl, which has toured Wales, is awkwardly put together, has missteps and flaws, but any play leading people to find out about the Aberfan tragedy has a worthwhile quality and it's an amber light.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Review The March On Russia

Tim Gopsill is drawn into a delicate yet hard-hitting 1980s' drama where family bickering reveals a deeper malaise. 

The March On Russia 
by David Storey

A House Divided

Marital strife is a staple element of drama, both in life and on the stage. In either milieux it can be light-hearted or deadly serious, poignant or embarrassing; it can make us laugh or cry.

In the late David Storey’s 1989 drama The March on Russia, he managed to cover pretty much the gamut in a play that is both surprising and heart-wrenching.

At first the Pasmore couple's bitter discourse makes you laugh with their obviously well-used little digs. Then the laughter becomes more nervous with embarrassment; you start to cringe and by the end you are aching with compassion for this decent, loving couple, wracked in a torture chamber of old age, isolation, claustrophobia and regret.

Ian Gelder's retired coal miner Mr Pasmore aggravates with his mock bowing and scraping at his wife’s supposed bossiness. Sue Wallace's Mrs Pasmore whines at his persistent failure to respect her house proud values.

This grim routine is disrupted by surprise guests on their 60th wedding anniversary. Their three middle-aged children, without telling each other, have all decided independently to visit  their Mum and Dad at the same time.

The occasion for this seemingly contrived, but ultimately satisfying, scenario is the old couple’s diamond wedding anniversary. 

David Storey was a master at drawing intense drama from everyday life. His reputation, revived at his death only six months ago, was made with a  gritty tough-guy drama, This Sporting Life, whereas the March on Russia is as gentle and subtle as you can get.

Yet contained within the countless opportunities for nostalgia, resentment and recriminations, the dialogue  becomes truly painful.

The Orange Tree's in-the-round stage space perfectly suits James Perkins' atmospheric set evoking the couple's Yorkshire bungalow. It maps out their home -  the sitting room with its fireplace, sofa, table and chair, the utilitarian rear kitchen with work top, fridge and sink. The invisible walls between rooms and people become solid and real for us. 

The longer the play goes on, the more frenetically the spaces are used. Yet in Alice Hamilton's sensitively directed production, after all the anguish, you feel the real affection beneath the surface tension.

It's a slow burner and all the more effective for it. The arrival of the siblings is restrained, not to say repressed, before it boils over in a pointless row over an anniversary gift, unleashing hitherto hidden depths of resentment.

Sarah Belcher is the discontented local politican daughter, Wendy, her tongue loosened by drink, speaking her mind. Connie Walker's more conciliatory housewife and mother, Eileen, and Colin Tierney's morose, workaholic academic son, living a life a world away from his working class roots, complete the homecoming.

The March On Russia, we learn, really happened. It's the stuff of a First World War anecdote often recounted by the elderly Pasmore, an eye-opening episode in the otherwise routine life of a working man. It's the only outside subject the couple have to talk about but also a resonant reflection of failed ventures and thwarted lives. 

 David Storey's portrayal of the wounded heart of a family speaks eloquently nearly 30 years after its first production at the National Theatre and more than matches playwrights like Harold Pinter and John Osborne whose works are more frequently revived.

This is a welcome revival and director Hamilton and the fine cast gives it the nuanced green light production it deserves..

Review Dolphins and Sharks

Dolphins and Sharks
by James Anthony Tyler

Prisoners Of The Copy Chain Gang

On the door of a grubby Harlem copy shop is taped a notice - "Back To School Sale".

Dolphins and Sharks is set in a photocopying shop which American writer James Anthony Tyler describes as a "Fedex type of business".

Yusuf (Ammar Duffus) has just left school - that's to say college, NYU  - with a bachelor degree in Philosophy, trailing clouds of debt, courtesy of the federal government's privatised student loan scheme, and desperately needing a job.

The play, as the title itself reveals, is s a slightly heavy handed metaphor for an enconomy where everything is a fix for bosses to profit from debt. Retail as an updated Animal Farm.  Yet  it could also be a transatlantic warning about the dangers of profiteering from copying in more ways than one.

Many of the events, as the employees are pushed into harassing each other triggered by the evasions and demands of an unseen boss, do hinge on who has been to college and who hasn't, but not in the expected way.

Yusuf lands a job at the shop but never gets the expected wage to pay the rent.

Upwardly mobile, attractive Xiomara (Rachel Handshaw) never went to college and was once an ally of mother-of-three straight talkin' Isabel (Shyko Ammos). At the same time, Xiomara can talk the talk of The Apprentice and gets the promotion. And previous friendships fall away as she has to  gird herself for unexpected battles.

Danilo (Hermeilio Miguel Aquino) the janitor is another long term friend and ally who finds himself unexpectedly pushed aside. Pensioner and local activist Amenza Amen (Miquel Brown) attends community college, cadging free copies for local  causes, and is seemingly an idealistic voice in the midst of a rigged casino culture.

Dolphins and Sharks has a brilliant premise but trips itself up with an uneasy patchwork of issues and actions. The writing has the feel of a movie rather than a stage play, despite the steady momentum of  Lydia Parker's direction.

Handshaw is nevertheless excellent as the upwardly mobile Xiomara forced to become a calculating schemer. The sorry events are watched over, at a distance, by a photocopied picture of Barack Obama on the wall of Anna Driftmier's convincing and detailed inside-and-outside set. The grit, though, is often in the scenes with Ammos's Isabel who tells it as it is, yet finds herself betrayed.

Dolphins and Sharks touches on huge issues but as a stage play, it never quite gels. Still, the final address to the audience by Amenza has a hard edged ambiguous feel, as much empty rhetoric from another time as a call to action and it's an amber light. 

Review Five Guys Named Moe

Five Guys Named Moe
A Musical By Clarke Peters
Featuring Louis Jordan's Greatest Hits

Here Comes Mr Jordan

It's only now Traffic Light Theatregoer, aka TLT, has realized that she has motoring form with Louis Jordan, otherwise known as the Father of Rhythm And Blues and the Grandfather of Rock 'n Roll.

In the days before electronic garage doors, one or other of her parents, when they needed someone to hop out of the car and haul up the garage door, would call out tunefully, "Open the door Richard!"

And on car journeys, TLT's Dad would invite us to join in a chorus of  "Is you is or is you ain't my baby!" with an accent gleaned from American Forces' radio when he was stationed in Germany just after World War II. For TLT, these were her family's the original call and response songs. 😉

Little did TLT,  who duly passed this heritage on to her automotive reviewing sidekick, know these two songs were part of the fascinating recording legacy of bandleader, singer, songwriter snd saxophonist Arkansas-born Louis Jordan who reached the height of his popularity in the 1940s. 

Damnit, TLT and her parents were groovy motoring hepcats and she didn't even know it! 😀 

Now Clarke Peters, he of The Wire fame, is directing an enjoyable revival of his hit 1990  musical review Five Guys Named Moe, the title taken from a  1943 hit song of Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.

The quintet of Moes spring to life, emerging fittingly for TLT's family history out of an old-style American radio to chide hapless Nomax (Edward Baruwa)  - tunefully of course.

Dishevelled, heavy-drinking, Nomax has done his gal sweet Lorraine wrong. She's upped and left him and he is now moping and toping in his sitting room.

Fittingly as well, this all takes place in a large circus tent-like pop up venue at London's Marble Arch. For Jordan started off his career touring, like his father before him, with the Rabbit's Foot Minstrels who set up tent from town to town. 

Like the Rabbit's Foot shows, the plot is negligible - it's the  musical and verbal wit and dance, choreographed by Andrew Wright,  that drives the show, with a bit of risqué earthy humour firmly of that time. 

With a circular walkway, some simple but effective lighting and scenic visuals and a terrific cast and band led by musical director Steve Hill with Jessamy Holder on saxophone, the audience are treated to a generous helping of 26 songs including the eponymous Five Guys Named Moe.

The five zoot suit Moes each of course have their own distinctive personalities - there's Big Moe (Horace Oliver), the leader of the pack, Know Moe (Dex Lee) who sings and  knows how to do the splits in mid air, Four-Eyed Moe  (Ian Carlyle) who channels Jordan's bespectacled minstrel Deacon Jones persona into a more modern man-about-town. 

Little Moe (Idriss Kargbo) who can belt out the songs and transform himself into a Carmen Miranda-type figure and Eat Moe (Emile Ruddock), a guy with a healthy appetite appropriate for the novelty food songs which were also a feature of Jordan's act.

It's loose and lively and has the capacity to be musically informative about Jordan as a pioneer who slid  into rhythm and blues and the rock 'n roll era by way, influencing Chuck Berry, James Brown and BB King. The 1949 song Saturday Night Fish Fry even has claim to be the first rock 'n roll song.

TLT was also impressed by the well-designed, attractive  tent  with bar and plenty of toilets for the ladies - hardly any queues on a crowded press night which deserves a review in itself! 😉The venue and the show is slick and sassy - treat it like "an experience" and it's great. 

It is a tad overlong. The songs and dance routines work but when it's stretched out over two hours , it becomes more difficult to understand the evolution of the songs over the years. 

TLT and the engine beneath her wings thought this was there in the choice of material, but the length and looseness of the narrative in a large venue drowns it. Nevertheless, it's great fun and a fab venue, so we award an amber/green light        

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Review Boudica (PREVIEW)

by Tristran Bernays

No Man's Land

Many of us (ok, TLT and her own metallic chariot) had previously only the vaguest impression of a Celtic  warrior queen Boudica with flowing locks taking on allcomers and emerging victorious.

The life of Boudica, whose image has varied according to the world picture of those who wrote about her, had a more tragic trajectory than we realised and is now the subject of a vigorous new verse play by Tristan Bernays filling the Shakespeare's Globe stage.

It's certainly an apt and clever choice, for it feels like a Shakespearean story, a proud Queen uniting the British tribes against the might of the Roman Empire.

However, it also feels appropriate to wonder if Shakespeare's pen would have chided her for hubris and unfeminine behaviour in more certain terms than the imperial Victorian image of the queen of Iceni tribe handed down more recently.

The Queen is a historical figure wrapped in a myth and probably an appropriate heroine for our double edged Brexit age. In the present version, it's woman power but also with a certain amount of questioning and a non pejorative modern slant.

But of course before Brexit there was Game Of Thrones and various swashbuckling mythological and historical TV serials in a Hollywood genre which has enjoyed a revival of popularity in recent times.

Directed by Eleanor Rhode, Boudica's life  makes for an epic re-telling, often in verse, with plenty of energy. If it is a tad unsubtle in its television-like structure and modern mash up, it still demands to be taken on its own terms as a tale of adventure and betrayal.

The writer himself says in the programme he wants to make a blockbuster action film onstage with battling women at its centre. And just as much as colonialization, it is a dramatic discussion of war including a hint of Cold War as defeat closes in.

Again it may not always be subtle, baldly questioning when defence becomes attack in a debate over the nature of conflict in post Second World War terms. But reiteration in the baldest terms suits the energetic style and there's a pleasing working of the audience as the British tribes rally.

Preceded by a drumming soundscape and  narrator (Anna-Maria Nabirye) dressed in the uniform of African rebels and child soldiers, the martial widowed Boudica (Gina McKee) and her two daughters, clad in robes with weapons at their side, make their regal entrances.

They have arrived to claim their share of the kingdom of the Iceni. Their husband and father had enjoyed favours including loans,  as a client king, from the Roman conquerors.

However expediently for the colonizers including the fey procurator Caius Deciamus (Samuel Collings) in a knatty brocade coat, suited and booted in cuban heels, Roman law only recognizes primogeniture and there's not a male heir in sight. 

Far from recognizing the danger and a hierarchy where woman are not even recognized as minor players, the Queen protests and is bound and lashed with a whip by soldiers while her daughters Blodwyn (Natalie Simpson) and Alonna (Joan Iyola) are given as trophies of empire to the troops and raped starting a cycle of rebellion and revenge.

The action takes place on a plain but versatile wooden stage, designed by Tom Piper, with ladders against the Globe's pillars backed by a stockade with simple but effective extras coming in as they are needed.

There may not be an especially complex subtext and we wondered whether rape was defined then in the same terms as now. The modern colonial elements are signposted a mile (or is that 1,609 metres?!) off,  but historical and mythical movies and TV series have conditioned us to such mash ups and artistic licence.   .

There's some zombie choreography (choreographer Tom Jackson Greaves)  lots of clashing swords, a spectacular aerial attack, a seering curse and bloody revenge.

The chief of the Belgics (Abraham Popoola),is a charasmatic huge punk tree trunk of a man, "There's madness and there's Badvoc!". The uneasy unification of the tribes under Boudica is sealed by Cunobeline (Forbes Masson), another chieftain who overomes his doubts,  with  a rock concert rendition of The Clash's London Calling.

The jokes are sometimes of the Monty Python/Blackadder genre but with more swearing: "Honey of course he's got news, he's the f******g messenger!". Boudicca  may not be the most complicated of characters, written as veering between the military and motherhood, but gives a stirring mix of Elizabeth I and Henry V rhetoric standing in front of the microphone to urge her troops.

There may be a risk of the lines descending into the parodic when we hear, "What has Rome done to you? and there are shades of the musical Salad Days in a scifi deus ex machina as Boudicca falters. However another piece of action makes sure the audience just takes in the visuals and doesn't stop to think too much.

Another softer dynamic is introduced through the younger daughter Alonna. A meeting with the enemy general (Clifford Samuel) ends in a glimmer of more civilised behaviour when he promises honourably he will insure she leaves free of harm.

It's clunky, perhaps trying to pile in too many issues,  but also funky and the cleverest thing about it is a reversal of the TV genre, which draws on classic literature, back into Shakespearean stage terms. It certainly could also work in even bigger venues and it's not often TLT would say that,, so it's an amber/green light!

Review The Blinding Light

The Blinding Light
by Howard Brenton

Down But Not Out In Paris 

Fin de siècle Paris and a famous writer is holed up in a seedy hotel doing decidedly weird stuff in the bathroom.

Howard Brenton's new play tangles itself with a few months in the life of Swedish writer, poet and painter August Strindberg, the "other" Scandinavian playwright.

For those not up on world playwriting, Norwegian Henrik Ibsen is probably slightly higher on the league table of Scandinavian playwrights in terms of fame, something which comes up in Brenton's sometimes witty but rather static and opaque take on this episode in Strindberg's life.

It should be enough for anyone coming new to Strindberg and this play to know only this. Certainly there's a pretty strong cast with Jasper Britton as the fiery, choleric Strindberg. He has shut himself away to pursue his weird science - the ancient dream of alchemy to transform base metals to gold.

So much for his theories - the play starts with a face off between the dishevelled and disturbed Strindberg, clad in his underwear and an artisan's apron, his hands stained with the chemicals needed for his experiments and forthright, dark-haired hotel cleaner, Lola (Laura Morgan) trying to do her job.

After that comes a succession of his former wives in what is,possibly a hallucinatory Faustian pageant. First of all, bossy aristocrat Siri von Essen (imperious Susannah Harker), an actress and mother of his two children. Then Frida Uhl (Gala Gordon who could have stepped out of a Gustav Klimt portrait), an Austrian writer, barely out of her teens when she first met and married Strindberg bearing him another daughter.

It's a neat irony that the elder of his wives' real first name reflects an authoritarian piece of Apple software (isn't all "helpful" computer software by its nature authoritarian?). Is Brenton playing on this? Who knows but he and maybe his director Tom Littler in a detailed and measured production?.

Yet in the midst of Strindberg's rantings and paranoia (he liberally takes swigs of what may be absinthe), the occasional futuristic reference crops up. Strindberg, we hear from one wife, "made his excuses and left" like some old-style tabloid hack.

The name of the celebrated movie from Ingmar Bergman (another Scandinavian!) Wild Strawberries also comes into his conversation. Such references and his assailing by inner and outer voices almost turn The Blinding Light into a Stephen King-style science fiction time travelling story.

Indeed, despite a polished staging, Max Pappenheim's soundscape made TLT and her own definitely non-imaginary sidekick (a talking, theatre reviewing car, what are you accusing TLT of? 😉) wonder whether this was originally intended for radio and maybe a prospect for a feature film.

This might explain, despite a grippingly intense, feverishly wild Britton and nicely stylized performances from Morgan, Harker and Gale, who cross over "real" life, painting and literature in one fell swoop, why The Blinding Light partly didn't quite work for TLT & Co.

The other part was like the recent Mrs Orwell: the name dropping and theorizing  might have the cogniscenti chuckling knowingly. However,  unless you know your Wedekind from your Swedenborg, audience members might drift off, drawn in again by only the occasional glimpse of a story.

There is a threat from Siri which finally materializes, only to dissolve through the help of the canny chambermaid. But in the end it feels as if The Blinding Light might work better as an opera with all its internal conflict and duologues with women in Strindberg's life.

Just in case, this sounds altogether too gloomy, it's worth adding there is a sense of irony and some comical juxtapositions transformed into a kind of writer's (and literary agent's) crafty happy ending when Strindberg, transformed, breaks through his own brick wall.

It's 90 minutes with good performances, if sometimes the writing itself seems rather studied and self conscious. There's an ingenious design by Cherry Truluck for Lucky Bert with gravy-brown late 19th century furniture in front of abstract painted screens, spot-on costumes from Emily Stuart and impressive lighting from William Reynolds,

The Blinding Light starts off well and ends well,  but the script  sinks into rather undramatic verbosity part of the way through, despite some redeeming humour and the best efforts of the director and cast. All in all, the voices assailing the collective mind of TLT and her jalopy whisper amber light.       

Review Ishq

Catherine Kelly manages to enjoy the spectacular design of a new Anglo-Punjabi musical, despite a deeply flawed book and score.

Book by Mushfiq Murshed
Lyrics by Farooq Beg, Owen Smith and Ian Brandon
Music by Ian Brandon and Emu Fuzön

Trying To Feel The Love

This musical, combining Pakistani and British talent, draws on a story which has delighted generations in Pakistan. It's a romantic and tragic tale from Punjabi literature, reminiscent of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet.

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of Pakistan's independence, the story of wealthy beauty Heer and the flute playing cowherd Ranjha, kept apart by caste, class and religion,  arrived on the stage of Sadler's Wells promising a spectacular blend of music and dance.

Indeed, there were audible gasps from the audience as a 15th century temple and vast courtyard were conjured up as if by magic in stunning projections designed by Declan Randall.

However, the magic soon evaporated as this mutated into a jaunty  ensemble opening musical number emulating a sub-Disneyesque style from composers Ian Brandon and Emu of Pakistani pop rock group Fuzön with lyrics by  Farooq Beg, who also directs, Owen Smith, as well as Brandon.

The story of Heer and Ranjha,  immortalised in 18th century verse by Sufi saint Waris Shah,  is here adapted by Mushfig Murshed using simplistic rhyming couplets with many confusing modern references. 

This awkward mash up continued throughout an admittedly visually colourful and lavish production, with modern and traditional choreography from Owen Smith and Suhaee Abro.

The highlight of the show was undoubtedly the stunning visuals. The expanses of rural farmlands, breathtaking palace palisades and awe-inspiring Sufi temples rose up in loving, painterly detail.

Meanwhile striking geometrical patterns evoked the eternal, transforming the limited stage space into endless spiritual vistas.

Equally the glorious costumes of Samina Aslan and Rabia Sana, along with the props and jewellery of Anila Rubab, were a veritable explosion of colour in keeping with the traditional tale.

It's a pity this wasn't matched by more reliance on the traditional rhythms and music of Pakistan in what could have been a pioneering Sufi musical. Yet the creators of the score for this literary romance chose a jarring bland musical format for the adaptation instead of introducing the audience to a rich cultural heritage.

The young cast, constricted by clunky dialogue, a poorly paced narrative and clunky direction with contrived blocking, had to resort to one-dimensional, pantomine-like characterisation.

All kudos then to Arti Mirwanni–Daltry and Irfan Damani who stood out as Heera's parents adding more natural inflections to the cumbersome couplets with their characterful performances.

Other opportunities were missed. The choreography during a wrestling competition failed to capture any sense of the high stakes or excitement of athletic combat. Given choreographer Suhaee Abro's expertise in classical Indian dance, including Sufi, Kathak and Bharatnatayan, it was frustrating that none of these appeared on stage. 

There was a short mesmeric Sufi whirling sequence but this seemed to come out of the blue, existing in isolation. For the most part, the dance routines, neither traditional nor fusion, failed to make an impression as another form of story telling.

It may be the creative team are more used to staging spectacles in large stadia and heritage locations than to developing engaging stories and songs for the stage.

There's certainly potential in the Ishq story  -- Ishq means love, an earthly, passionate but pure and unconditional love - with its compelling, centuries-old storyline.

However, overall the characterisations were underdeveloped within a muddled, piecemeal, heavy handed approach and a mixed bag of musical styles, talent and performances.   Sadly, I could not feel the Ishq, earthly or otherwise although, for the visuals, it just about scrapes into a red/amber light.

Review The Knowledge

In an era of satnavs and Uber, a classic comedy drama about black cab drivers in training passes the test for Peter Barker.  

The Knowledge
by Jack Rosenthal
Adapted for Stage By Simon Block

Be Lucky!

The Knowledge, for those without the knowledge, is the ordeal all would-be taxi drivers of London's iconic black cabs must undergo to earn the right to ply for hire on the city streets.

Those applying, known as Knowledge boys and girls, need to learn the 20,000 streets within a six miles' radius of Charing Cross and how these link together in what are called "runs".

In 1979 a tale of unemployed men and one women attempting The Knowledge caught the imagination of the British public in an enormously popular TV film written by the late Jack Rosenthal and directed by Bob Brooks.

Now The Knowledge has reached  Charing Cross Theatre in a stage adaptation by Simon Block, directed by Maureen Lipman who appeared in the original TV film 38 years ago and also happens to be the wife of writer Rosenthal.

The play's bones and flesh remain Rosenthal's work in a faithful adaptation. This does mean however it still retains a screenplay feel with a series of quick short scenes and a multiplicity of characters.

Nevertheless director Lipman keeps up the momentum and a nine-strong cast play out the trials and tribulations of the oddball applicants on Nicolai Hart-Hansen's two tier set.

The Public Carriage Office examiner's office, ever-present, perches on a central mezzanine while the domestic scenes roll out front of stage.

Above are London street signs -- Kennington Park Road, Brixton Road, Whitehall and a pair of traffic lights which signal the progress of the would-be cabbies.

The main focus is on taxi novice Chris (Fabien Frankel), goaded by his girlfriend Janet (Alice Felgate) into trying for his cabbie's green badge.

Ted (Ben Caplan), aided by wife Val (Jenna Augen) is also trying to join the ranks and live up to a tradition of passing The Knowledge and joining the family taxi driving dynasty.

Gordon (James Alexandrou) uses The Knowledge as an alibi to cheat on his long-suffering wife Brenda (Celine Abrahams) while Miss Staveley (Louise Callaghan) is the only woman applicant. 

The spectre hanging over all of them is the prospect of not succeeding and the embodiment of that is examiner Mr Burgess.

The monstrous Burgess is a classic comic creation, here captured by a stand-out Steven Pacey judging the applicants from his desk in Penton Street, N1.

What you get in the film which is missing from the stage are the streets of London in spite of a soundtrack with The Clash's London Calling, The Jam's Town Called Malice and Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street.

But on stage the wide ranging shots of London and the applicants investigating the intricate web of thoroughfares are a lack. For Rosenthal's original script was as much an affectionate look at the highways and byways of the capital as a dramatic glimpse into the training of cabbies.

A little later, Ian Drury and The Blockheads performed their own love song to London the Bus Driver's Prayer - "Our Father who art in Hendon, Harrow Road be thy name".

Rosenthal's earlier The Knowledge comes from a similar place. It is definitely and defiantly a piece of its time. Just as cabbies with The Knowledge retain a human flexibility and nous which cannot be replaced by technology,  so the script remains entertaining, very funny and humane and it's an amber/green light.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Review Agent Of Influence

Francis Beckett infiltrates the murky world of pre-Second World War espionage through a fictional fashion correspondent in an enjoyable new play.

Agent of Influence
by Sarah Sigal

The Spy Who Came In From The Catwalk

In 1936, at the time of the abdication crisis, Lady Pamela More is the elegant fashion correspondent for The Times newspaper. She is uninterested in politics:  “I leave politics to the politicians.”

Indeed, at most, she views Germany’s new leader through the eyes of a London sophisticate who thinks all that shouting and goose-stepping is in rather poor taste: “I know Mr Hitler has done a lot for Germany, but it does look over the top.”

And she never asks about the First World War, then known simply as The Great War: “Far too gloomy.”

Yet by 1939 she is an experienced and courageous spy for (I assume) MI5, providing crucial information on the near-treasonable activities of the former king Edward VIII and his wife, the former Wallis Simpson, now the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

She is also able to face her own past, including a botched abortion leaving her unable to have children, which neither her mother nor her husband know about.

The story of the fictional Lady Pamela is told with sensitivity and masterly understatement by writer Sarah Sigal and performed to cut glass perfection by Rebecca Dunn.

Dunn's Lady Pamela is brittle at the start, but conveys the vulnerability beneath the veneer. When she speaks as someone else – Wallis Simpson, say – she does an excellent impression. However, it's not so polished that we ever doubt it's Lady Pamela doing it herself.

There's a minimalist set by Lucky Bert and Jessica Beck directs Dunn with not too many costume changes, as befits the director of a one-woman play in a charming but tiny fringe theatre.

All three have sufficient sense of history and respect for the nineteen thirties to convey the period authentically and avoid judging the action and characters by the standards of a later period.

The piece does rely on a few slightly dodgy historical assertions – not that I mind: that’s the nature of drama.

But we don’t know that the Duchess of Windsor had an affair with Hitler’s ambassador to Britain, Joachim von Ribbentrop. If she did, MI5 did not know about it. The only inconclusive evidence for it was unearthed after the Second World War and immediately suppressed by Prime Minister Clement's Attlee's  government.

We don’t know that the Windsors passed secrets to Hitler's Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess, only that they had contact with him before the war; and it’s quite unlikely they would have had any secrets worth passing on.

It’s also pretty unlikely that the fashion correspondent of the Times in 1936 would have disliked and despised Diana Mitford, previously the wife of brewing heir Bryan Guinness but by then married to Britain’s fascist leader Oswald Mosley.

If  she did, she would have kept it to herself: the Mitfords were popular and fashionable in the circles Lady Pamela would have moved in.

And Lady Pamela is recruited by the handsome spymaster Charles, with whom she has an affair. In fact, she could only have been recruited by M – Maxwell Knight of MI5 - who not only considered it wrong to have an affair with his agents, but was also impotent.

However Lady Pamela's story and exploits are a nicely honed fiction. At about 75 minutes without an interval, this is an interesting, entertaining piece wittily written with a splendid central performance and well worth a green light.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Review Doubt, A Parable

A fraught adversarial situation between nun and priest within a New York Catholic school during a time of social change fully engages Peter Barker. 

Doubt, A Parable
by John Patrick Shanley 

Truth And Consequences

Sister Aloysius Beavier is the sternly upright conservative headmistress of a New York Roman Catholic school in 1964 which has just accepted its first black pupil from the working class population of the Bronx.

Now purely circumstantial evidence leads her  to suspect a young, progressive priest with an otherwise attractive personality, Father Brendan O'Flynn, may be guilty of molesting the new boy.

John Patrick Shanley's play tackles the nature of faith in oneself as well as in others and in self-policing, hierarchical institutions.

Doubt swirls around the allegations, but Sister Aloysius, the principal of a school attached to the local Catholic Church, does not allow herself to entertain any uncertainty.

She sets out to prove his guilt, not so much Miss Marple as a Miss Wimple who has already drawn her conclusions and now is working backwards to find the proof.

She's a small but steely and tenacious figure against the taller frame of the urbane Father Flynn, marking the division between the two not only in personality but in a hierachy.

For the priest always outranks the nun and the protocols for handling discomforting complaints easily turn into a dead end process and a means of suppression.

Both a melodrama and a witty thriller mystery, writer John Patrick Shanley's 2005 play therefore pits the austere female principal, played by Stella Gonet, against Jonathan Chamber's charismatic priest.

Doubt is a four-hander play with three women and one man structured around a series of duologue scenes punctuated by monologues, among which are sermons delivered to a congregation.

It's a tense 90 minutes revealing unexpected but all-too-human complications and the atmosphere of an era - the USA's first Catholic president John F Kennedy had just been assassinated.

Even the title Doubt, A Parable has an ironic 21st century ambivalent edge - for when was a parable ever uncertain? -  as nun and priest battle it out verbally and manoeuvre on the stained glass floor under the chandelier of PJ McEvoy's ecclesiastical set design.

Directed by Ché Walker, there are terrific performances from the whole cast which also includes Clare Latham as the idealistic, enthusiastic young teacher Sister James and Jo Martin's mother of the alleged victim who has her own understandable reasons for not making waves. 

Doubt is a tautly constructed play where no character has the monopoly on probity and the Catholic Church's powerful reach brings unexpected but logical reactions when religion becomes a team game.

This is highlighted in a compelling scene between Sister Aloysius and the mother of the allegedly abused boy who, focussed on a better life for her son, is willing to accept some risk as long as the boy benefits.

However, this is a production that falls at the very last hurdle. Instead of leaving the question of the priest's guilt or innocence open, it seems to interpret a final ruse by the nun followed by the priest conceding to her as an indication there is no room for doubt.

The actors play this as a cut-and-dry situation and this ending jars, given the complexities of the situation presented beforehand. Nevertheless for everything else in a demanding, pacey and thought provoking play, it's a green light. 

Friday, 8 September 2017

Review Seven Letters

Seven Letters
by Rian Flatley

A Song at Twilight

A nostalgic play, Seven Letters comes from the pen of writer/director Rian Flatley, focussing on the memories and twilight lives of women care home residents  with chequered pasts.

While the stories fulfil well-worn stereotypes and it feels like a one-act play stretched into two acts, it is lifted from the stereotypical by some charmingly simple but effective original songs woven into the plot.

Faye is a well-travelled lively hippy chick Irish pensioner. Tempie is a staid, middle class matronly Home Counties' sort,  keen on her crossword puzzles.

Frail Lena has a multilingual past with a tragic incident cruelly snatching away her chance of lasting happiness. American born Hannah is, she says, in for short term respite care but increasingly losing her mind and a grasp of what is going on.

They are cared for by chavvy, but good hearted young Summer who is willing to sit down and chat to them about her life outside the home. 

The seven-women play is structured as a series of monologues and flashbacks linked by group scenes where past and current lives are discussed and chirpy Summer serves tea, ginger snaps and feeds them snippets of information.

In its own past, Seven Letters has been made into a short film. Indeed the way scenes are shaped appears more suited to a screenplay than the trajectory of theatre with a few of the audience at the interval unsure whether it was the end of the play or an interval.

Nevertheless there are some pleasing performances, chiefly Teresa Jennings as feisty Faye, Kate Winder's patient and courteous Lena and Linny Bushy's crafty but vague Hannah with sweet-voiced Charlotte Reynolds as young songbird Faye.

Claire Gollop is starchy Tempie while Alice Taylor plays good-time girl care assistant Summer. 

However this is still a work in progess. The characters are hampered by some heavy-handed dialogue and there is need of dramaturgy to realise the full potential of the music and give point as to why Faye is the only woman with a younger self on stage.

An outside director might also bring in more nuance and, for instance, allow the group chatter to overlap, varying the rhythm of the conversation, rather than having a pause after each character speaks.

While not a musical, there certainly is also potential for experiment in the weaving together of song, drama and spoken lines slipping into the rhythm of music or into song.

But there needs to be a sharper focus on character development and the merging and diverging of fantasy and reality. 

The care home scenario is a staple of new writing. However, there is always scope for a refreshing and tweaking of the genre. This play really has something in its use of the original compositions of  musical director Lindsay Bridgewater who accompanies on keyboards and also at one point participates wittily in the action.

Seven Letters runs until Saturday September 9 at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham and will have another four-day run at the Hampton Hill Theatre from January 17 next year.

It is overlong and rather clunky and over literal and one wishes sometimes for a more modern interpretation of old age.

However, given more development, it could through both spoken and sung scenes become something much more. There's potential for structural music and spoken word innnovation with a juxtaposition of poignancy, sentimentality alongside a harder edge. It's an amber light.  

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Review Wait Until Dark

Wait Until Dark
by Frederick Knott

Double Dealing

This 1967 play by the son-of-Quaker missionaries, Frederick Knott may seem like a dated traditional thriller, Yet it is really far more of a psychological helter skelter riff on the horror genre and product of a psychedelic and actorly age.

This seam was mined more fully in 1967, the year  following its stage premiere, in a suspenseful movie version directed by Terence Young, like Knott born in China, when it was a successful vehicle for Audrey Hepburn as the blind heroine in a Greenwich Village basement flat.

This, however, does not necessarily make this play a gripping piece for a 21st century audience.

Set now in London, a young woman is home alone in a basement flat where she is terrorized by a trio of criminals, with one murder already under their belts, searching for a stash of drugs.  

Sight impaired actor Karina Jones is Susy, both quivering victim and resourceful 1960s' hip chick, who gradually realises the utter implausibility of what she is being told by a series of characters impersonated by the wrongdoers.

Yet this seems part of a consciously double layer of implausibility. The plot is triggered by a husband (Oliver Mellor) who naviely agrees to bring a doll from Amsterdam to London for an attractive fellow passenger with a sob story about a sick child.

A naive young fellow you may think? Well, in this case it's a photographer. In the 1960s.  A seasoned traveller who doesn't realize any of the dangers. Hmm. 

Skip over this far fetched initial scenario, just as the farce audience should lose itself in laughter, this melodramatic wind up relies on surprise, excitement and satisfaction as a series of sadism and shocks are lined up for resilient Susy to knock down.

The play was directed first by Arthur "Bonnie and Clyde" Penn on Broadway with Lee Remick, quickly followed by a West End production with Honor Blackman in the starring role.  

Maybe one day some enterprising theatre bod can transform it into a satisfying semi parodic (somewhat in the style of Joe Orton's Loot) stylistic success.

But for the time being it remains, at the very least, both an extremely knotty play and a creaky period piece with longeurs.  It may also need a more heightened radiophonic soundscape to reflect Susy's experience as she grows in awareness. 

Knott, a Cambridge law graduate and ex-army man, is said, famously, to have hated writing. However he still managed to pen two workmanlike plays out of a very small output which were turned into classic movies - Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder starring Grace Kelly and Wait Until Dark

His first success came when a play which failed to find a producer was picked up by the BBC and after its first TV transmission was passed on to Alfred Hitchcock for a movie.

TLT and her cohort in theatrical crime couldn't help feeling that maybe by the time of Wait Until Dark, Knott was pitching at a movie deal from the start. As a play, it's far more suited to radio, a medium in many ways more closely allied to cinema than the stage.

It's not hard to see why Knott's writing was congenial to the styles of Hitchcock and early James Bond director Young. This is a plot which has to work like a clockwork thriller equivalent of farce.

The mechanics have to whirr inexorably round and the shocks slot into place with a satisfying frisson. A vein of humour in the play shows an awareness of its artificiality and artifice.

It seems to TLT and her quick-change-artiste automotive pal that Wait Until Dark can only work if the villains are understood to be both villainous and a cast of actors playing sadistic tricks in 'real' life.

 Actors with a mix of styles ranging from barnstorming melodrama to method acting straight out of The Studio.

Is this possible? Not on the evidence of this uneven producton directed by Alastair Whatley and the most recent productons, it seems. Even the actor Peter Sallis who played the chief villain in the original West End production directed by Anthony Sharp said it was "a difficult play to read and a difficult play in a way to put over".

It remains the original Cold War chiller thriller - a fridge or ice box plays a huge part in a rather confusing denouement. It does seem mightily stretched out over two acts and two hours and 20 minutes. In terms of tension, it's decidedly lukewarm rather than a red hot crucible.

Having said that, there are good performances from Jones and her young poppet of a neighbour, as strapped up as Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, Shannon Rewcroft. Jack Ellis does convey effectively increasing doubt over his role in the drugs' plot and Tim Treloar makes a menacing Roat adding considerable pep in the second act.

This is a touring production, in Richmond until Saturday and then moving to runs in Cheltenham, Cambridge, Salisbury, Exeter, Lichfield, Malvern, Southend, Ipswich, Cardiff, York and Guildford.

As a historical piece in a gallery of theatrical curios, it is interesting. As a piece of drama, it does fall short for today's savvy audience and we can only give a red/amber light. 

Review Hyem (Yem, Hjem, Home)

Peter Barker makes himself at home with a warm-hearted play marking the debut of a promising writer. 

Hyem (Yem, Hjem, Home)
by Philip Correia

Where The Heart Is

On a run-down Northumberland estate, Sylv and husband Mick keep open house for s series of young misfits, alongside a dog and a python named after screen icons Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.   
Hyem is a Geordie colloquialism for home, and home is a place where safety isn’t assured for children or adults, according to Philip Correia’s flawed but vastly enjoyable first play.

Surrounded by hostile neighbours, Sylv (Charlie Hardwick) from the North East and Mick (Patrick Driver), a committed far-left winger originally from down south, have welcomed a disparate collection of young outsiders. into their hyem.

First comes tattooed, rebellious Dean (Joe Blakemore), then teenage schoolgirls Laura (Aimee Kelly) and Shelley (Sarah Balfour) and now the teenage boy Dummey (Ryan Nolan).

Writer Correia, originally from Blyth and also an actor, has a sharp ear for dialogue, a nice line in   banter and comedy and creates an interestingly fraught situation as the new arrival causes resentment in the loose hierachy of the household.

He peoples the stage with some well-drawn characters and there are strong moments and scenes. Shelleyand Dummey have to grapple with the six-foot python escaping and Mick gives Dummey a driving lesson in some hilarious set pieces.

However the characters are often stronger than the plot. While it's 2003 with Brits and Americans poised to topple Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq and a career in the military having taken away the couple's son, this all feels more like wallpaper than an integral part of the story.

There are moments when possible plots - a political cadet school, intimations about sexual grooming - present themselves but they are then dismissed.  The script does have a tendency to drift away and is structured more like a screenplay than a stage piece.

In spite of this, director Jonny Kelly draws excellent performances from all the cast with Nolan’s initially taciturn and round-shouldered Dummey as the innocent heart of the play.

Balfour’s energy as Shelley and Kelly’s innocent seductress Laura convey powerfully the urges of teenage life while also having half a foot in the more guileless world of childhood.

Designer Jasmine Swan has assembled an evocatively jumbled set. The front room has a cheap sofa and an even cheaper print painting of an idealized young girl complemented by a plethora of photos framed on the wall -- portraits of families, cars and memories.

Playwright Correia nevertheless veers towards televisual soap opera, especially in the final 20 minutes where a short series of shocks leaves each character at a climatically hysterical end to their arcs.

This strikes a jarring, contrived note in an amber light play which still shows Correia to be a playwright of enormous promise.