Love From A Stranger – March 2018

Experience: 8/10

By Frank Vosper, adapted from a short story by Agatha Christie

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Co-produced by Fiery Angel and Royal & Derngate Northampton

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Thursday 29th March 2018

Several surprises tonight. Firstly, this was an Agatha Christie story which I didn’t remember, so I was much more caught up in the suspense that I expected. Secondly, Lucy Bailey’s production had more tesnsion and was more gripping than I’d anticipated. We’d seen her version of Dial M For Murder some years ago, and really enjoyed the way she used the movement of the stage and a much looser set design to create a greater sense of suspense than usual, but although the set here was less balletic, with front and back sections simply sliding from side to side as needed, it didn’t get in the way of the performances, and allowed the tension to build. And finally, and even more surprising, was to find in our records that we saw a production of Love From A Stranger thirty years ago, at the Theatre Royal Brighton: safe to say, I have absolutely no recollection of that production at all.

Continue reading

Humble Boy – March 2018

Experience: 8/10

By Charlotte Jones

Directed by Paul Miller

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Thursday 29th March 2018

It was good to see such a strong production here again, after our last visit. The set was good, the performances very good and we enjoyed ourselves very much. The only downside for me was that I’m currently waiting for an appointment to get my ears syringed – until that happens everything is a bit muffled. But in such a small space, and with such skilled actors, that wasn’t a problem today. I may have missed the occasional word, but that’s normal.

Continue reading

The Duchess Of Malfi – March 2018

Preview performance

Experience: 4/10

By John Webster

Directed by Maria Aberg

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Wednesday 7th March 2018

We appreciated the first half of this show much more than the second: but for some design choices, which to us seemed unfortunate, this would have been a feather in Maria Aberg’s cap. As it is, tickets may be returned, and I certainly won’t be recommending this production to any of our friends. My main problem was the excessive amount of blood: although there are a lot of murders in this play, they aren’t all bloody, and the amount of artificial red stuff on show was simply unnecessary, especially for someone as squeamish as myself. Remove the carcass (more on that later), remove the blood, and I’d be more than happy to see this again.

Continue reading

Macbeth – March 2018

Experience: 6/10

By William Shakespeare

Company: Tobacco Factory Theatres

Director: Adele Thomas

Venue: Tobacco Factory

Date: Tuesday 6th March 2018

This is the first Shakespeare production by the Tobacco Factory Theatres Company. It fills the slot previously occupied by the Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory company (STF), who are now doing their productions in the autumn, but our main reason for wanting to see this particular Macbeth was the advance information we got last year at the RSC’s Summer School that Katy Stephens would be playing Lady Macbeth! Made this a must-see.

Continue reading

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – February 2018

Experience: 6/10

Adapted by David Edgar from the story by Robert Louis Stevenson

Directed by Kate Saxon

Venue: Rose Theatre, Kingston

Date: Thursday 15th February 2018

This was a decent attempt to put Stevenson’s story on the stage, but suffered from the usual problems of such adaptations – having to shift scenes very quickly as well as coping with visual changes which are done much more easily on TV and film. The cast did a reasonable job overall, and Phil Daniels created two clearly distinct performances as Jekyll and Hyde. The addition of a singer for this production was largely wasted on me, and I found the gloomy lighting a problem at times, as with increasing age I need more light to see by, not less. But this performance certainly kept my attention much better than the afternoon’s offerings, for which I was grateful.

The set had to accommodate several locations, and while it wasn’t the most sophisticated I’ve ever seen, it did the job pretty well. An upper balcony stretched across the centre of the stage, with a spiral staircase at the left side. Underneath was a filler wall which could be either the doors to Jekyll’s sister’s garden or the fireplace of Jekyll’s flat. For other locations it was usually left open. There were doors at either side of the wide stage, and an additional door, coloured bright red, in Jekyll’s lodgings, this being the door to the lab. Once through this door, a tall rack of glass bottles containing coloured liquids masked the right-hand door, while a table and overhead light took centre stage. With all of the furnishings removed, the stage became a gloomy London street.

The costumes and décor all contributed to the murky nature of the production. Dark clothes and dark paintwork made for dismal surroundings, but the cast did their best to keep things moving, and for the most part it worked quite well. My main problem was with the maid, Annie. It took me a long time to adjust to her accent, probably because it travelled round the British Isles at a fair lick. If it had settled down in one place, I would have been alright. Steve and I heard hints of Irish, Scottish and West Country, and that, combined with a tendency to gabble her lines, meant I got very little from her part at all. Since she was the one in the lab with Jekyll/Hyde at the end, when the final revelations were being presented, I lost most of the connection I’d had with the plot and found myself looking at my watch more than once. Even so, we enjoyed ourselves well enough, along with the rest of the audience.

© 2018 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Out Of Love – February 2018

Experience: 4/10

By Elinor Cook

Directed by James Grieve

Company: Orange Tree/Paines Plough/Theatre Clwyd

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Thursday 15th February 2018

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. My comments at the start of Black Mountain apply equally to this piece, another co-production which bored me rigid. Same set, same cast (who did another good job), similar lack of anything interesting or new: this time I did manage to nod off. Steve stayed awake, and would have rated this play higher than me, but only 5/10.

The play concerns the relationship between two women, Lorna and Grace. Again, there were lots of short scenes which flicked rapidly forwards and backwards in time, and involved the actors playing not only older and younger versions of their main characters, but other characters as well. In this, the cast did a great job: we were always aware of who they were and roughly when they were. To be fair, the writing did help with this, but the bulk of the credit must go to the actors, who were wearing the same costumes throughout the seventy minutes. (Not the same ones as for Black Mountain, but also modern dress.) The performance style was the same as Black Mountain, and although there was more physical contact, they mainly stood and talked to each other, creating a very low energy level.

One of the girls gets pregnant, the other goes off to have a career. Their relationship is strained, but rumbles on. (I can feel myself falling asleep as I type.) Steve summed up both plays with two words – singer/songwriter. We’ve found that most singer/songwriters tend to write about their own adolescent experience, and unless they make a real effort to grow up, their songs tend to be depressingly similar and of little interest to sixty-somethings. These plays felt like that: reasonably well written in some ways, but lacking any depth of imagination, ideas or characterisation. Not our favourite day at the Orange Tree.

© 2018 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Black Mountain – February 2018

Experience: 5/10

Written by Brad Birch

Directed by James Grieve

Company: Orange Tree/Paines Plough/Theatre Clwyd

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Thursday 15th February 2018

Steve and I take the view that it’s important to support new writing, but that sitting through it can be a bit hit-and-miss. We console ourselves with the thought that the less good plays are a kind of necessary payment for the better ones. After today, we’re well in credit. Much as we like the Orange Tree and its work, this co-production left a lot to be desired. The actors, as usual, did a decent job with the scripts they were given, and the audience in general seemed to appreciate the performance well enough. We found it rather banal, with little of interest in either the relationships or the ideas.

Continue reading