Oysterband – November 2007


Minerva Theatre

Date: Thursday 29th November 2007

This was the first time we’ve seen the Oysterband, though we’ve been aware of them for a number of years. The support act was Dan Donnelly, who also played with them during their set. He’s an Irishman who now lives in New York, and whose songs covered some of the basics of human experience – love, loneliness, etc. Songs such as Love Will Save The Day, Cigarette, Lonely Still, Shine and a number of others, warmed us up nicely, although from Dan’s perspective we were still incredibly reserved. No swearing, no throwing bottles, what was the matter with us? He had a good voice, and I liked the songs well enough to buy a CD, but the most interesting thing was the amazing box of tricks at his feet. He was able to set up rhythms, riffs, etc, and get the machine to loop them as a backing track – the most amenable band in the world. It sounded great, so I’ll be interested to hear what the CD is like.

The Oysterband needed no introduction to their fans, and gave us a blend of new songs and old favourites. Bury Me Standing, Meet You There, Here Comes The Flood, Dancing As Fast As I Can, and Over The Water are from the new album, while oldies included If You Can’t Be Good and My Mouth amongst many. I liked the sound, an unusual combination of folk instruments and modern style, and enjoyed the songs, tapping away to most of them, as were a lot of the audience.

The band had been told they wouldn’t get anyone dancing in Chichester, but that was proved wrong. A brave lady got up to bop in the far aisle about half-way through, and towards the end, lots of folk stormed onto the stage to take advantage of the open space. If I hadn’t been caught up in the middle of a row, I would’ve joined in (possibly). Anyway, the band did the usual encore, and then treated us to a display of their skill that I haven’t seen before, and may not see again for a long time. The regular band members (Dan had disappeared offstage by this time) came in front of the mikes and did a proper acoustic number with no amplification at all. OK, it was quieter than the other stuff, but still audible – the Minerva isn’t that big – and we all got to join in. It was a great way to end their set, and much appreciated. I hope we’ll see them again, and in the meantime I bought a couple of CDs to keep the memory fresh.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Unexpected Guest – November 2007


By: Agatha Christie

Directed by: Joe Harmston

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Tuesday 20th November 2007

We’d seen this play before, but again we couldn’t remember all the details. We remembered enough for the denouement not to be unexpected, but we still enjoyed the evening.

The set was a massive sweep of white curtains, covering enough windows to keep a double glazing salesman happy for years, and some furniture. The setting was clearly 1950s. Above the windows were three large panels with African scenes – the victim was previously a big game hunter out there – and during scene changes we were treated to some African drumming and chanting. All a giant red herring, of course.

The plot was straightforward enough – no need to give anything away here – and the parts were well enough played. Sergeant Cadwallader, the Welsh policeman, had apparently done a stint in the Met, but otherwise the performances fitted well. Richard Blackwood was particularly entertaining as the victim’s personal servant; he reminded me of Paterson Joseph, and he got plenty of humour out of the part.

The start was a surprise – the lights went out suddenly, and there were several loud shots, which sent the audience into paroxysms of twittering; a little too much, if you ask me, although it was a good effect. This was definitely a cut above the average Christie production, and a good evening at the theatre.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Rainer Hersch’s Victor Borge – November 2007


By: Rainer Hersch

Venue: Mill Studio

Date: Thursday 15th November 2007

I had a weird sense of dissociation early on during this performance. I knew we were watching Rainer Hersch giving us his impression of Victor Borge, but my reactions were as if the original was standing there. I felt all the warmth and affection I’d stored up from childhood, seeing him on TV and knowing the routines. It was a good start, and it got even better.

After an opening section giving us some of Borge’s classic patter – e.g. the joke about the piano being made in China, and an ordinary keyboard having the keys going from left to right (we filled in the rest ourselves) – Rainer told us about his own background (not Jewish, not gay, hair not permed, as he said to his partner Lionel, the hairdresser from Tel Aviv), and explained how he hadn’t heard of Victor Borge while he was growing up. Once he started doing stand up and brought music into it, a process that took a number of years, he found his reviews kept comparing him to some chap called Victor Borge, and in a search for a publicist so successful that he could get his own client’s name into another performer’s reviews, he finally came across a CD of Borge’s work and the rest is history, as they say. He didn’t actually say what his reaction to hearing Borge’s work was, but I assume it was positive, as it eventually led him to research Borge’s life, and even to meet him briefly, backstage, in Denmark – he showed us the picture.

From here he took us on a trip through Borge’s life story, annotated with various snippets of his comedy routines, and including some very moving events, such as Borge’s trip back into Nazi-occupied Denmark to see his dying mother for the last time. He managed the emotional changes very well, and I was crying more often from laughter than from sadness. Hersch’s own talents as a comedian and musician were very clear. He also managed the accent and mannerisms very well, and was ably supported by a good technical crew, who brought in the music and changed the lights perfectly. At the end, he encouraged us to beg for more, then gave us one of his own routines about what they’re actually singing at the opera – definitely called for one of those discrete little pads! This evening lifted our spirits, and reminded us of a great entertainer, as well as making us aware of a new talent.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

There’s No Place Like A Home – November 2011


By: Paul Elliot

Directed by: Chris Colby

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Tuesday 13th November 2007

This was as minimal a 5/10 performance as I can go, but as there were some laughs, it was at the Connaught, and it was for charity, I’m happier being kind. I did wonder if my watch had stopped a few times, but we got there in the end.

The plot concerned a bunch of elderly actors and entertainers in a rest home specifically run for this group of semi-retired performers (they want to work, no one wants them). Due to some spurious financial losses their home is about to be sold, and they hit on a plan to kidnap a famous person, demand a ransom, and then use the loot to buy the home. Jeffrey Archer is the celebrity chosen, and he ends up cooperating, as he’s realised what’s going on (no appearance from the famous man, thank goodness). Despite a visit from a retiring detective inspector, the gang get away with their scheme, and all ends happily. Their home is bought by another theatrical charity (the one raising money tonight), and they can all stay. The ransom money is being returned, and one of their number gets an unexpected windfall which he’s happy to share with the others. Ah.

Despite having more holes than a large sieve, this plot trundled along well enough for the most part, with decent performances from the various actors. Most of them were old troupers themselves, and there were a few references to past triumphs, such as Gordon Kaye’s use of “you silly woman” coupled with a picture on a back wall that looked remarkably like the Fallen Madonna With The Big Boobies we all know and love so well. Don Maclean played an ageing singer who decides to take up ventriloquism, which used to be a staple of his act, and there were no doubt other references I wasn’t aware of. A lot of the writing could do with a serious rework, but there were some good lines, and I did enjoy the appearance of the kidnappers in disguise – Tony Blair, Prince Charles, Margaret Thatcher and Elvis Presley, as well as a dwarf in a Santa suit. All in all, it was a bearable evening with some good moments.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Romantic Comedy – November 2007


By: Bernard Slade

Directed by: Tom Conti

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 12th November 2007

We enjoyed revisiting this play, which we first saw years ago, also with Tom Conti. I don’t remember a lot of details – the set seemed more spread out, and less obviously an apartment with a view, as it was tonight, but I found the story coming back to me as we watched.

The story is of a comedy writer (Conti) who enters into two partnerships on the same day – the first with a new writing collaborator, a young woman who’s got a huge crush on him, and the second to a wife, who ends up leaving him as he’s not really the marrying sort. The play is all about the writers’ relationship, and their failure to turn it into a romantic attachment as well as a professional one.

There are still a lot of funny lines, and the cast did very well with them. I liked Kate Atkinson as Phoebe Craddock. She got across all her character’s innocence and awkwardness, as well as showing her development through the play. She was a very focused presence throughout. I also adore Eleanor David (the agent) as an actress – she’s so smooth and elegant, and delivers her lines effortlessly while looking rapturously beautiful.

There was a presentation at the end of the performance. The local paper had run a competition, and Tom Conti presented the lucky winner with a bouquet of flowers, lucky lady, and after a few piccies and some more applause, we were off. Good fun, though it’s showing its age a bit.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Changeling – November 2007


By: Thomas Middleton and William Rowley

Directed by: Stephen Unwin

Company: English Touring Theatre

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Thursday 1st November 2007

We attended a pre-show talk by Stephen Unwin, which gave me a very clear picture of what he sees in the play and why he was interested in doing it. I was also able to clarify the plot in my mind – although I’ve seen this one a couple of times before, I tend to get this one, The Duchess Of Malfi, and Venice Preserv’d confused with each other (it’s not difficult, honest).

With the benefit of this chat in mind, I still have to say that this is undoubtedly the best production I’ve seen of this play. It was clear to me who all the characters were, what they were about, and what was going on, something of a miracle where Jacobean drama is concerned. Although I don’t find the language nearly as good as Shakespeare’s (an inevitable comparison), the plot was good, and there was a lot of humour, which isn’t always on show. But the biggest plus was that, being a touring production, they couldn’t afford a whole asylum full of lunatics, so we were spared the gruesome spectacle of the gibbering, drooling wretches who so often claim the stage in major productions of this play, doing their best to make the audience feel entirely uncomfortable at the thought of staying past the interval. It was a godsend to have only the two false lunatics for the bulk of the performance, with the other actors dumbing down for the loony tunes group dance.

The set was a good mix of gothic castle and Victorian institution. This allowed for some very quick shifts between locations, which speeded everything up. The tragedy part, with Beatrice-Joanna showing Lady Macbeth a clean pair of heels, contrasted nicely with the care home for the mentally challenged, run by the should-be-cuckolded Albius and his servant Lollio. Although they never diminished the horrors of what was going on in these places, Lollio (David Cardy) in particular made the most of his part, bringing out much more of the humour than I’ve seen before.

All the performances were very good, but a special mention must go to Adrian (we remember the porter) Schiller, who made Deflores believable and partly sympathetic, while still being capable of butchering half the countryside to get the woman he wants. Another reminder – this is the play where Alsermo has a bottle of liquid with which he can test whether or not a woman is a virgin, involving gaping, yawning, and laughing. Why he feels he needs this stuff, and why he leaves his closet unlocked at precisely the wrong time, is something we’ll just have to ask the dramatist. Anyway, this was a great evening, and I’ll certainly look out for Stephen’s other work, though not necessarily for Middleton’s.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me