Round The Horne – September 2009

8/10

By Barry Took and Marty Feldman

Directed by ??

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 18th September 2009

Another fun instalment of this comedy series, which may end up running longer on stage than it did on the radio. This time, the band was on stage – that is, in the studio with them – and they brought on some singers to do the usual musical interludes that comedy shows had in those days. This was fine, but it did mean less time for the funny bits and I felt Julian and Sandy, in particular, were cut cruelly short in both halves.

Even so it was a bona evening out, and I hope they keep it going as long as they can.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Pirates Of Penzance – September 2009

10/10

By Gilbert and Sullivan

Directed by ??

Company: Carla Rosa

Venue: Richmond Theatre

Date: Wednesday 16th September 2009

Let’s face it, any G&S is 10/10 as far as I’m concerned, and it would have to be a pretty naff production to get a lower rating. Today’s Pirates wasn’t as good as last year’s Mikado but I still had a wonderful time, sniffling from the get-go and loving every minute.

During the latter part of the overture, and behind the see-through curtain with the picture of a skull and crossed pistol and truncheon, we saw the Major-General sitting in the cove on a deckchair. Then they raised a sheet (dark green?) to represent the sea. A cut-out pirate ship sailed across from right to left (good laugh) and then we saw the Major-General doing his calisthenics before popping in for a swim (more laughs). The pirate ship appeared again, giving him a fright (even more laughs) and when the sea sheet was lowered he was back on the beach to grab his things and head off before the pirates landed, which they did shortly afterwards. The prow of their ship appeared on the left of the stage, with Ruth acting as the figurehead, and then we were into the opening song.

There were good reactions from the chorus throughout. The Major General made a chuckle out of “e-e-e-e-e” in the orphan song. They added a governess, tea stand and changing hut when the girls arrived. Karen Dunbar was good as the head police(wo)man, giving the audience a bit of geeing up. I felt the stage was a bit cramped, even for the reduced numbers on this tour, and as I couldn’t hear the words so clearly this time I found myself thinking we might see it again at Chichester, opportunity permitting, to see what sort of difference the more open stage made.  (Any excuse.) [Didn’t manage to fit it in, sadly]

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Signalman – September 2009

6/10

By John Goodrum, based on the short story by Charles Dickens

Directed by John Goodrum

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Tuesday 15th September 2009

I vaguely remember reading a ghost story involving a signalman many years ago, but I was basically ignorant of what would happen tonight. As it was I found myself drawn in to the stories told by the two characters, the signalman and his visitor, and the denouement gave both of us a shiver.

The staging was very good, I thought. The arch of a railway tunnel was centre back, with a red light high beside it on the left. High rocky walls enclosed the cutting on either side, while the signalman’s hut was front right. The lighting emphasised each location as the action shifted between outside and inside. The signalman’s hut had few furnishings, but the telegraph signal machine was prominent.

I very much liked the way they showed a train coming through the tunnel. A white light shining from within the tunnel indicated the train, and there was be some smoke and steam coming out as well. Then the lighting flickered over the set like the light from passing carriage windows as the train rushed past, together with the appropriate sound effects. It was an impressive way to deal with it, and certainly got my imagination fully engaged. I realised after a few of these that the signalman was looking up at the train because he was at ground level, not on a platform.

The opening scene was well done, creating just the right sense of chill, as only the visitor was talking. The signalman’s reaction, apparently frozen with fear, got my nerves tingling and the spooky sound of the visitor’s calls from on high at the start also contributed to this. I gather this tour had only started about a week ago which explains why the signalman was having difficulty remembering his lines, and didn’t always deliver the ones he could remember as clearly as I would have liked, but we got the gist and given that the signalman was meant to be a man in the grip of a strong emotional quandary the mixing up of a few words was entirely in keeping. The visitor was perfectly clear, and with the excellent staging this made for an enjoyable and slightly scary evening.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Crooked Wood – September 2009

6/10

By Gillian Plowman, based on the BBC TV film “Number 27” by Michael Palin

Directed by Anthony Falkingham

Company: Jill Freud Company

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 11th September 2009

This was a good, fun evening. Again, a play which had originally been written around twenty years ago proved remarkably accurate for today. An old lady, Miss Barwick (Jill Freud), resists the pressures of unscrupulous property developers to sell the only house she’s ever lived in, and along the way we get some laughs and even some cheering (when the villain of the piece fell through the stairs). And a couple who were headed down the wrong path get a chance to change their lives, and that of their soon-to-be child, for the better.

The set was remarkable for such a small-scale production. A door with entrance hall on the left, stairs hidden behind the wall next to it, panelling and a door off to our right, and lots of furniture and ornaments representing the clutter of several generations, though in this case a lot of them were valuable antiques.

Jill Freud played the fluffy but shrewd old lady very well. It was a treat to see how she dodged all the awkward questions, and used every tool in the book to get the men visiting her to fix up the house, now falling into a serious state of neglect. Richard Gibson played Andrew Veitch, the ruthless developer who finds it impossible to use his nastiest tactics on the dear old lady, especially when she tells him her father left a lot of money to Barnardo’s when he died, Veitch being an orphan brought up by that institution. (Personally, I’d ask to see a copy of the will, but he drank it in like mother’s milk.)

His wife, Sally (Penelope Rawlins) works for Sotheby’s, and is busy revamping their expensive house, spending all her husband’s hard earned money before it’s actually been earned. She’s particularly touched by Miss Barwick’s generosity, giving her a lot of old books which she knows how to restore and care for. There’s also a public spirited chap called Quentin Gilbey, who used to work with Andrew when they were both young and idealistic. Now he’s qualified as a lawyer, and spends his time helping other ordinary people block the rapacious schemes of property developers. He’s happy to help Miss Barwick when the developers’ man on the council slaps a notice on the house for being unsafe.

Finally, the piece wouldn’t be the same without a nasty piece of work, and in this case it’s a chap called Murray Lester (Simon Snashall). He’s Andrew’s boss, and spends at least half of his time with his mobile clamped to his ear and the other half telling Andrew to get a move on. Swearing is not so much optional as mandatory, and it’s his accident with the stairs, after a pretty vicious attack on the old girl, that gets the cheer. One of the best lines closed the first half, when Miss Barwick answered Andrew’s phone for him, and reports Lester’s message verbatim: “Don’t take all fucking day.”

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Browning Version – September 2009

8/10

By Terence Rattigan

Directed by Peter Hall

Venue: Rose Theatre, Kingston

Date: Thursday 10th September 2009

How embarrassing. This was a double bill; the first play was Swansong, a piece by Anton Chekov. However I’m not able to rate Swansong as I kept nodding off through it; not a reflection on the actors, just that I was more tired than I realised. I heard a fair bit of laughter, so it must have been pretty good.

The Browning Version is another matter altogether. I’ve only seen this once or twice before and my memory wasn’t clear on all the details so I had to pay close attention to this one. The story concerns an older teacher, Andrew Crocker-Harris, steeped in the classics, who is about to leave the public school he’s taught at for eighteen years due to health problems. He has another job – he’s due to start next term at a ‘crammer’ – but he won’t be earning as much, and today the headmaster tells him he won’t be getting a pension as he hasn’t done the full twenty years. This piece of information drew a few gasps from the audience, and there was more to come.

His wife’s unfaithfulness throughout their marriage is represented here by her latest lover, a younger science teacher, and we learn about Crocker-Harris’s reputation amongst both staff and boys through a chat between a student, Taplow, and this science teacher, Frank Hunter, while both are waiting in Crocker-Harris’s study. Crocker-Harris himself becomes aware of this reputation through the innocent use of his school nickname “the Himmler of the lower fifth” by the youthful chap who’ll be replacing him next term. This, coupled with an almost sadistic barb from his wife over a book which Taplow has given him as a farewell present (more gasps from the audience) appears to put the final nail in his coffin, and his disappearance from the stage clutching his medicine bottle made more of us than just his wife think he was going to end it all.

He didn’t, and with the science teacher’s eyes being opened by the wife’s behaviour another opportunity emerges. The wife’s off to Bradford, but Crocker-Harris has decided to stay at the school until he goes to Dorset to take up his new post. Frank Hunter has taken his address and arranged a date to visit him there. Before sitting down to dinner, Crocker-Harris calls the headmaster to tell him that he will, in fact, make the final speech tomorrow, a position he’d allowed himself to be pushed out off for a more popular, but junior master. As he and his wife start their meal, there’s a lovely sense of the worm turning and the possibility of some happiness in the future.

I do like the way that Rattigan sets these people before us without much in the way of judgement, so we can see the situation from a number of points of view. Crocker-Harris comes across as a dry old stick to begin with, but as we get to know more about him and the people around him, we see more to the man than that. All the performances were fine as was the set. Now all I have to do is make sure I stay awake in future, and all will be well.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Strictly Murder – September 2009

6/10

By Brian Clemens

Directed by Ian Dickens

Company: Ian Dickens Productions

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Friday 4th September 2009

A nice twist at the end made this thriller a bit above average. I recognised the set from September Tide back in April 2007; there was a strange raised area at the back, with two steps down to the front of the stage, but only in one central place. Very distinctive. Fortunately, this piece was much better than that one.

Set in Provence in 1939, the play sets up the idea that the young man, Peter Meredith, living in the cottage with a young woman, Suzy Hinchcliffe, is not all he seems to be. There’s mention of some scars on his back which look like wounds caused by barbed wire, there’s speculation that there are German spies operating in France, and he seems to be keen to listen for news on the radio about the possibility of war. There’s an old German guy called Josef who wanders around taking food and leaving flowers and carrying a gun. Is he a German spy, or just an old man still suffering from the effects of his service in the First World War? Then a man called Ross comes calling, having recognised the style of painting that Peter produces, referring to the way his cell had been decorated with them, and Peter is forced to take some drastic steps to stay free.

That was in April 1939, and with the second half we move forward several months. Back in April Suzy had announced that she was pregnant, and Peter had been less than enthusiastic about the prospect. Now a man called Ross turns up again with a woman called Miller, and tells Suzy the story of who Peter really is and why it’s not safe for a young woman to be carrying his baby. He arranges with her to set a trap for Peter but will she be able to carry it out?

The Miller role was being played by Georgina Sutton tonight instead of Sabina Franklyn – a last minute thing, I suspect. All the performances were fine and despite one or two remarkable coincidences it was believable enough, with a bit more depth to the central characters. A good evening out.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Troilus And Cressida – September 2009

6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Matthew Dunster

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Wednesday 2nd September 2009

“War and lechery” is what this play’s usually about, and we got plenty of that today. We also got a good reading of the central relationship, and a running time of less than three hours for which my behind was very thankful.

The set projected forward of the stage again, with a curved edge. A narrowing channel ran from the ground level at the far side of the stage up at an angle almost to our side, with the slope allowing additional access to the stage. There was a square platform in front of the regular balcony, draped with cloth above and with curtains at each pillar below. The two main pillars were also concealed behind cloth wraps which made them look like, well, pillars, and the whole floor seemed to be covered with gray tarpaulin which had been painted with the odd bluish streak to resemble marble. It looked odd to begin with, but we were soon caught up in the story and the well wrapped set, with its hidden surprises, soon became an important part of the performance.

The unfolding of fabrics was a key part of this. While there were some armour storage solutions brought on from time to time, the main changes were brought about by drawing curtains, lifting up cloth to make the top of a tent, displaying a map of Greece, and using a long piece of green material to wrap around a pillar for Pandarus’s orchard. There may have been other things I’ve forgotten now, but the best bit was probably near the end. When Troilus comes on shouting about Hector’s death (Hector’s body is lying in the channel, with a decent-sized trickle of blood running down from it) black streamers fell down each pillar in the auditorium, simultaneously, and so abruptly that the audience gasped. It was a good effect, and overall it was one of the most active sets I’ve seen here.

The story was pretty active too, with plenty of sword fighting to keep us amused. Thersites’ initial description of the situation was illustrated with soldiers from both camps – Greeks in blue and Trojans in purple (makes a nice change from red). They didn’t fight, but did some practice manoeuvres (i.e. dances) instead. They didn’t hold back when it came to the actual battles, though.

The love story between Troilus and Cressida developed nicely, with Matthew Kelly as Pandarus giving a tremendous performance. I could hear every word and understood most of it too, even without the occasional lewd gesture to help it along. His own affection for Troilus was pretty clear, and I noticed how much he was concerned for that young man rather than his niece when the news of the exchange arrived. He made the most of every funny line, and was the best thing on the stage.

Cressida seemed a bit too lively at the start, running around all over the stage for no apparent reason, but at least this time we knew what she really felt about Troilus. As the story developed, particularly when she was first brought into the Greek camp, she came into her own and her vivacity and wit fell into place. I felt sorry for her, and I was very aware of a sense of menace in her situation in the Greek camp; she seemed to be looking towards Diomed for protection, and although she regretted being unfaithful to Troilus I couldn’t see what other choices she had.

Troilus was manly enough and not as silly as I’ve sometimes seen before. The Greeks were all fine, with the exception of Thersites, who delivered his lines in such a straightforward way that much of the humour disappeared. However he did add in one or two bits of his own, such as picking up debris from the battle and declaring “Trojan war memorabilia” then trying to sell it to the audience. Ajax was wonderfully full of himself, and it was good to see Jamie Ballard again, this time playing Ulysses, the crafty Greek who manipulates Achilles so well. These machinations were good fun, especially with Ajax strutting his stuff. I found Trystan Gravelle’s Achilles a bit wimpy myself – he clearly needed the benefit of his dip in the river Styx to be able to survive in battle. I also find that the Globe’s policy of letting each actor use their own accent contributes to the lack of clarity in the dialogue, as it not only takes me longer to tune in to a variety of accents, but some accents just don’t work so well in delivering Shakespeare’s lines. However on the whole the lines came across reasonably well this time.

The ending of the play was extended by having Pandarus give us a reprise of many of his lines from the play, as if from his grief and loathing. As he did so, the rest of the cast gradually came on stage with drums; in place of the usual dance we got a drum chorus instead, and very good it was too. Not the best production I’ve seen, but they kept the pace up and gave us a good performance.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me