The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui – August 2013

Experience: 8/10

Written by Bertolt Brecht, translated by George Tabori and revised by Alistair Beaton

Directed by Jonathan Church

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Thursday 22nd August 2013

Having seen this last year, we were keen to see how it had changed in revival. With most of the original cast back in harness, rehearsals were presumably more straightforward, but there were a few new actors to add in to the mix who could add a fresh take – what would we see tonight?

Continue reading

The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui – July 2012


By Bertolt Brecht, translated by George Tabori

Script Consultant Alistair Beaton

Directed by Jonathan Church

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Tuesday 17th July 2012

This is a marvellous production, which treats Brecht’s play with respect but also respects the audience’s desire for a good evening at the theatre. In fact, we got a great evening at the theatre, with both the comedic and dark aspects of the play brought out very strongly. The individual performances were all excellent, and the numbers staying behind for the post-show discussion had to be a record for the Minerva.

The set design was superb as well. Simon Higlett apparently did a great deal of research and included subtle references in the design which wouldn’t be obvious to most people, but which added to the overall effect. For example, there were tramlines representing the train tracks leading into Auschwitz, and the central arch at the back was in the same proportions as the entrance to that establishment (post-show info). The back wall was mainly brickwork, with the arch in the middle and metal stairs leading up to the side balconies. One of these had a ventilation fan on the go, with a light shining through it occasionally.

Under the arch were placed several settings. At the start it was a wall with a large poster of Scarface, the 1932 original version. Later it held the door to the gangster’s speakeasy, the fireplace of Dogborough’s country house, the public benches for the trial scene, the warehouse door for the execution of Roma, and the very large podium from which Ui makes his final speech. At other times it was left open, while furniture and other props were brought on and off as required. This took some time, and was a slightly negative aspect of the staging, as it caused a brief drop in the energy. But with such a strong production the energy soon picked up, and it wasn’t a significant problem.

The show began early, with some great music from the period – Brother Can You Spare A Dime? and We’re In The Money plus others – played and sung by members of the cast. Others sat around the speakeasy, and when the lights went down there was one final song before the master of ceremonies came on to give us the prologue. He used a standing microphone and spoke in rhyming couplets, introducing the main characters to us. As he did so, each character got up, acknowledged the introduction in his own way, and then left. The last person he mentioned was Arturo Ui himself, and this time Arturo entered from the back and marched straight through and off at the front. The reference to his similarity to Richard III was funny, and even more so for those of us who had seen Henry Goodman playing that very part.

When the prologue was finished, the room was cleared of furniture and the Cauliflower Trust started the ball rolling. Their incipient greed was obvious to see, and that was the driver for all that followed. A fake loan needed Dogborough’s backing, as he had such a glowing reputation for honesty and integrity that no one would investigate the details too closely. With a secret gift, the Trust overcame Dogborough’s steadfast refusal to assist in their con trick, and when Ui got to hear of this, he used the leverage to blackmail his way into power. Once there, the violence snowballed, but when Ui had advanced far enough to consider moving his protection racket into the neighbouring town of Cicero, the thugs he’d employed up to now became a hindrance and were removed, by tommy gun. Mind you, the guns were still in evidence when the ‘free and fair’ democratic Cicero elections were held, and amazingly enough there was a huge majority for the proposed Ui protection offer. With the Cauliflower Trust now supplying veg to both Chicago and Cicero, where would it all end?

There was a lot of humour in the early stages, getting less as the darker aspects took over in the second half. Even so, the absurd effect of gangsters talking about killing and arson in order to control vegetable distribution could still get us laughing well into the later scenes. The classic scene with the old actor teaching Arturo how to walk, stand and speak, was brilliant, with many of Hitler’s mannerisms appearing during the lesson. In addition to the very funny “Friends, Romans, countrymen”, this was a version of the play which used a great deal of Shakespearean references, with many familiar lines being mangled to fit the circumstances.

A lot of the time, though, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or not, and some scenes were very uncomfortable to watch, especially the trial of the poor chap who was being blamed for the warehouse fire. Doped up to the eyeballs, he recovered for a brief spell, only to be dosed again by the tame court doctor and inevitably convicted by the judge. At the end of the first half, with Arturo on the rise, I wasn’t comfortable about applauding because it felt as if I would be applauding him, though I did want to acknowledge the actors. At the end however, the final speech, warning us to watch out for another Arturo, changed the tone completely and I was very happy to join in the enthusiastic response from the whole audience.

The post-show was incredibly well attended, by both cast and audience. The discussion covered the question of how much historical detail was necessary, with some finding the final part too obvious, but mostly the feeling was that not everyone would know the history, and in any case it was necessary to have that final speech because the play was intended as a warning. The information on what each scene represented wasn’t being shown during the play this time, although the details are in the program. The cast had found some parts of the play not easy to perform, but enjoyed the audience’s reactions to those difficult sections when our feelings were most challenged. The set was complimented, as was the music at the start, and while Henry Goodman’s performance was rightly lauded, we praised the whole cast for their performances as well. The Minerva itself was well liked by the cast (natch), and despite the many hands being raised we finally called a halt at 11:30 p.m.

I enjoyed this production more than I expected, Brecht not being a favourite of mine, but for all that I couldn’t rate it higher than 7 stars. Perhaps the pre-show talk we attended gave too much away; I intend to avoid these in future unless I’ve seen the play first. I did find it difficult to understand the dialogue for a while, as the accents were pretty strong, but I managed to tune in eventually and the rest of the show was fine. I’d certainly see another Brecht at Chichester if they’re going to be done this well.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at

Singin’ In The Rain – September 2011


Screenplay and adaptation by Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed

Directed by: Jonathan Church

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 8th September 2011

I found I was humming some of the music from this show during the day, which is a good sign. I reckon Gene Kelly had put me off this musical – I just don’t like the guy, sorry – but now I’ve seen it on stage, I’ve really taken to it. I was certainly looking forward to another splash fest tonight, and as it turned out, the show had come on so much that I can only reflect my experience by giving it full marks. I’ve added in some corrections to my earlier notes, so here I’ll concentrate on some extra details and any changes I noticed.

Some things that were in the earlier performance, but which I forgot to mention last time include the two young boys who act out Don and Cosmo’s early days, the gorilla and Robin Hood walking across the sound stage just before Make ‘Em Laugh then joining in the song later, and the way that Cosmo gets the idea to use Kathy’s voice instead of Lina’s was from the ‘Yes, yes, yes. No, no, no’ section of The Duelling Cavalier, where the sound had gone out of sync, giving the man Lina’s voice and Lina his. This section came after Good Morning, when the three leads are lying on the ground in front of the bench; they come up with the idea for the musical, sing the song, then realise they have to contend with the problem of Lina’s complete lack of vocal talent.

The technical side of things had also improved, as the water tank didn’t overfill before the first Singin’ In The Rain this time – no seepage – and I reckon there was less water in the basin than before. Adam Cooper focused much more in the dancing tonight which was great, although that didn’t stop him spreading the water far and wide in the process. One minor hiccup – the wind machine in You Were Made For Me didn’t work tonight, so the mist threatened to become a fog, blocking our view. I suspect they turned it off pronto because it soon cleared.

The biggest change overall was that the cast had grown into their performances tremendously. It was much tighter, the storyline was much clearer, and all the singing and dancing was just as fabulous as before. With a post-show discussion to follow, the audience was packed with many of the keenest Chichester Festival Theatre supporters, so we were a very friendly crowd and responded warmly throughout, applauding at the end of many of the scenes. I was particularly glad that we applauded Katherine Kingsley’s performance as Lina several times. It’s such an important part, and she did it magnificently, even better than the first time we saw it, which was only the second preview. Her singing of What’s Wrong With Me was clearer, and still dreadful without being so hard to listen to. The rest of the cast were brilliant too, and I only hope they can keep most of them together for any London run.

I loved every minute of tonight’s performance, and there was more! The post-show was held towards the back of the auditorium this time, as the crew needed to clean up the stage. In fact, they managed all that before we got started, but as we were settled they didn’t try to move us again. The choreographer Andrew Wright, the musical director Robert Scott and assistant director Luke Shepphard were on hand to get things started, and several of the cast joined us as well, once they’d dried off. They talked us through the original intensive creation period, and some of the problems they’d had with the flooring. It had to be able to handle all that water yet be suitable for dancing – a lot to ask – and they still don’t have an ideal solution. The control bits for the radio mikes were wrapped in plastic bags, apparently, and for the title song Don’s hat successfully keeps the mike dry.

We were surprised that Robert Scott hadn’t seen the film – everyone else had – but he does keep the music on his iPod, and listens to it constantly when he’s preparing a show. They’re hoping to transfer to London – no one would be specific about the venue – and there may be a cast recording – hooray! The cast’s stamina was commented on; they’ve got fitter with all the performances they do, but having the show in rep actually makes it more difficult for them, as they have to keep their stamina levels up during the off days. They seemed to be enjoying themselves a lot on stage, and they claimed to be a happy bunch of bunnies, with lots going on backstage to keep them entertained. Even the foyer area saw some action, with the final quick change being an eye-opener for any audience members who left early! On that revealing note, the post-show ended.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

Singin’ In The Rain – July 2011


Screenplay and adaptation by Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed

Directed by: Jonathan Church

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Wednesday 27th July 2011

[with some corrections from seeing it again on 8/9/11]

This is a fantastic production, so good that it’s hard to believe that Singin’ In The Rain wasn’t a stage musical from the off. The set was great, the performances brilliant, and the staging had some lovely touches of the film about it without being a slavish reproduction. I don’t think I’ve seen the main house so packed for a long time, and despite the inevitable soaking for the front rows (we were in Row C and not out of range!) it was great fun. I’m not a huge fan of musicals per se, so I wouldn’t give it top marks, but I can understand why the musical aficianados were standing and cheering at the end. A great night out.

The set was both elaborate and simple. At the back of the stage there was a central proscenium arch frame with lots of lighting built in. This could act as the arch of a theatre or a general doorway, and there were sliding door panels or a curtain which changed the location instantly and effectively. Above this was the orchestra, largely obscured by the set but just visible through the gaps. Around the archway and to the sides were general building sections, which could look like a townscape or a film studio according to how the stage was dressed, and to the extreme sides, above the side seating, there were cut outs of hills, and on the left hand side the Hollywoodland sign. Other signs lit up on either side from time to time, but these were mostly out of my eye line, and I wasn’t aware of them so much.

Then there was the floor of the stage to consider. A raised pavement ran all the way round the outside of the stage, and this represented the Hollywood Walk of Fame outside the Grauman theatres, Chinese and Egyptian, both of which feature in the musical. The handprints I saw included Lina Lamont and Don Lockwood, the fictional stars of the musical, and also Charlie Chaplin (cameo appearance), Douglas Fairbanks (whose films provided research material for the creative team), and Tom somebody and his horse (one hand print, one hoof print) [8/9/11 – Tom Mix and Tony, the Wonder Horse]. But you had to go right up to the stage to see them. There were also light panels built in which were used during the initial Singin’ In The Rain sequence.

Inside this raised pavement was a boarded section which contained the water during the rainstorms. Just before each downpour, you could see water starting to seep up from underneath, and we realised that the tank below had to be full during the rainstorm or the water would all drain away instead of bouncing off the floor. This led to Cosmo Brown getting the back of his waistcoat wet when he lay on the ground shortly before the big number. The cleanup operation during the interval was pretty slick, and you’d hardly have known there had been so much water everywhere when they’d finished.

In fact, the whole production was very slick when it came to getting people and furniture on and off the stage for each scene. I found I rarely noticed the arrival and departure of even quite big pieces of furniture, such as desks and lampposts, and although it took a little longer setting up the filming set, that worked well as it would need to be set up anyway in the context of that scene.

One final thing to mention was the lovely airplane which flew across the auditorium at the start, trailing the banner advertising the new Lockwood and Lamont movie whose premier opens the piece. This was very cute, and also great fun. The costumes were all suitably glamorous, and fitted perfectly, both in terms of the cast and the time and place.

The overture had been choreographed, with the dancers showing us a film studio at work, which was a good start. Then we were into the real opening sequence, with Dora Bailey, swathed in a voluminous fur coat which must be hell in the heat [8/9/11 the coat only had a fur collar – not so bad], introducing the characters to us as they walked down the red carpet to the premier of The Royal Rascal. It was clear immediately that Lina Lamont was being kept well away from the microphone, and this helped to built up suspense for the first time we hear her speak. The first number, Fit As A Fiddle, was OK, and then we got a chance to see the two stars in action. The filmed bit of The Royal Rascal was wonderfully funny, and they got the style just right.

After the showing, the principals head off to the studio boss’s party. Lina’s first grating lines were delivered really well, or really badly if you prefer, and she’s clearly not the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer either. She actually believes the studio’s publicity that she and Don are an item, and can’t grasp that he’s not keen on her at all.

With Don choosing to walk instead of taking the car, we move into Hollywood Boulevard, and his first meeting with Kathy Selden. They played this very well, with her being dismissive of his fame and talent while showing glimpses of being a fan, and him being smoothly arrogant and humble at the same time. We also get our first sight of the policeman at this point. The musical number, You Stepped Out Of A Dream, was pleasant enough, if a little bland, but then Don gets mobbed by the chorus of passers-by and escapes with a few tears to his jacket.

When Don finally turns up to the party, R F Simpson, the studio boss, presents him with a big surprise – a tower of champagne. Actually, it’s a dummy tower, which opens up to reveal a dancer, who’s then joined by a whole troupe to perform All I Do, which they did very well. The only thing is, the lead dancer is none other than Kathy Selden who was so snobby to Don earlier, claiming she was a ‘proper’ stage actress. This was a brilliant performance by Scarlett Strallen, as she not only danced and sang really well, but also included expressions of total embarrassment and outright anger amongst the dazzling smiles the piece required. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Nor could Don, of course, and he grabbed her at the end of the number to stop her disappearing. When Lina walks in on their conversation a short while later, she’s just in time to get the perfect pie in the face from Kathy, who intended it for Don, but he ducked just in time. Lina’s attempt at a dignified exit was ruined by her foul-mouthed exit line, finishing with the word ‘ass’. [8/9/11 ‘Dignity my ass’]Very funny.

Kathy runs off, naturally, and when we next see Don it’s a couple of days later at the studio [8/9/11 three weeks, actually]. He’s unhappy. He hasn’t been able to find Kathy anywhere, and Lina made sure she was fired from her job. To top it all off, Don took her criticism to heart, and he’s convinced he’s no good as an actor. Asking Cosmo for advice is a great lead into the wonderful Make ‘Em Laugh. It’s hard for anyone to follow the film version of this song, but Daniel Crossley did a pretty good job. He’s an excellent dancer, with good comic timing, but he has to perform this show time after time and can’t be hospitalizing himself after each performance, so inevitably it’s lower key than the film. Even so, they did a good job with the various ‘accidents’, and their homage to the wall sequence at the end was just brilliant. Two stage hands brought on a section of wall and held it mid-stage. Twice Cosmo ran towards it as if….. and then backed off. For the final attempt, at the very end, he completed the run up and then carried right on through the flimsy paper wall. It was a great way to end the song without doing too much damage.

The next scene shows us the filming of the next Lockwood and Lamont blockbuster, The Duelling Cavalier. A strip of grass, a bench, some flowers, and voila, we’re back in 18th century France. Such is the magic of film (and stage). The magic doesn’t extend to the dialogue though, as this is still a silent movie, so Don and Lina can indulge their bitchiness to their heart’s content while pretending to be rapturously in love with each other.

It’s a very funny scene, but things are changing in Hollywoodland. [8/9/11 During the post-premier party,] R F Simpson showed his people the shape of things to come with a short movie which actually includes spoken words! They mostly tied up with the presenter’s lips, but there was a bit of ‘drift’ which was funny, and reminded us of how things were in the very early days. There are lots of people who think the new technology is just a fad and for now, The Duelling Cavalier stays silent. But R F does start using the new technology, as the next scene shows.

Monumental Pictures is shooting a scene reminiscent of Flying Down To Rio, with lovely ladies perched on the wings of a plane, singing and dancing along with the pilot to the song Beautiful Girls. There’s lots of pink, soft mist (it smelled dreadful tonight), and plenty of dancing. It’s a lovely scene, with Kathy Selden well to the fore. Her talent has been spotted, and when R F turns up he’s asked to hear her sing, which leads us into You Are My Lucky Star. He likes her, and despite the pie-throwing incident, hires her on the spot, as long as she stays out of Lina’s way. Don had turned up during her audition, and now they get together for the love duet You Were Meant For Me; I think this is where Kathy is up a ladder for the first part with Don using the sound stage to create a romantic effect as he sings to her. Then they dance for a bit – it wasn’t the most memorable scene for me.

It turns out The Jazz Singer is a hit, and now R F decides to change to talkies, so his stars have to take elocution lessons to ensure they can deliver the lines correctly. Don is working with a diction coach when Cosmo turns up and starts turning the tongue-twisters into song – Moses Supposes. The dancing was really good here, with David Lucas, who’d played the pilot earlier, matching the other two throughout.

We also see (and hear!) Lina’s attempts to say her lines in a more refined accent – no luck, I’m afraid. So when the actual filming gets underway, it’s probably a blessing when things go wrong. This was a very funny section, and Katherine Kingsley’s performance as Lina was brilliant. To reproduce the effect of the sound cutting out when she moved her head away from the microphone, she had to deliver parts of her dialogue out loud and then mime the rest, and she did this to perfection. There were several takes, and the problems were many and varied. The microphone had to be moved several times, her heartbeat came through loud and clear – nice to know she has one – and finally R F himself trips over the microphone cable and yanks it out, complaining that it’s in the way!

When the sneak preview is underway, we see the stars watching from chairs in the middle of the stage, facing forward so we can see their reactions, and there are other audience members to one side. The film itself is shown on the screen behind them, and it’s as dire as we would expect from the filming that we’ve seen. The public start walking out before the end, making their views known, and apart from Lina, everyone knows it’s a big fat turkey. Lina has been chomping away on her popcorn, happy as a lark at her magnificent performance, but once she’s gone, Cosmo, Kathy and Don have a wander along the Boulevard, wondering what they can do to make the film work.

I forget what triggered it, but Cosmo is the one who comes up with the idea to use Kathy’s voice to replace Lina’s. He demonstrates this by having Kathy stand behind him talking or singing while he mimes, and when Don catches on, they soon have the plan in place – they’ll redo the film as a musical, and with Kathy dubbing Lina’s voice they stand a chance of producing a halfway decent movie. This takes us into the well known song Good Morning, which they staged really well, finishing up with a nod to the film version when they clamber over the bench and lie down on the other side. This leads Don and Kathy to get close again, and when Cosmo realises he’s a third wheel on their bicycle he slopes off, leaving Don to walk Kathy home. The storm clouds are gathering, however, and the water is already seeping up through the floor, so once Kathy’s gone, we can start to enjoy one of the most famous scenes in musical history.

This was so well done that I found I could almost forget the Morecambe and Wise version. When the rain came down, it came down heavy, and in no time at all there’s quite a lake in the middle of the stage. Apart from the occasional person running across the stage to get out of the rain, and the policeman, of course, Don has the stage to himself, and he splashes away to his heart’s content, soaking many in the front rows on the way. I didn’t mind the water myself – well, we weren’t in the front row, so we were hardly touched – but if I have one quibble it’s that Adam Cooper spent so much time splashing the audience that we didn’t get to enjoy as much of his dancing talent as I would have liked. This is an opportunity for the leading man to show off his skills, and it would have been nice to have had more of that, but he was so focused on wetting us that I felt the scene became all about that instead of the dancing. Mind you, it was good fun, so it’s a fairly minor complaint. There was nice touch at the end with Don putting his hat full of water on the policeman’s head and then realising what he’d done – oops!

With the place dripping wet, the interval had to be taken after this number – no surprise there – and then the restart quickly takes us into R F’s office where Cosmo finally persuades him to try their plan to rescue the movie from turkeydom. We see Kathy dubbing Lina’s part for both song and speech, and then there’s a scene in Lina’s dressing room, where we see her being told about Kathy’s presence on set and then hear her croak her way through What’s Wrong With Me?, which concludes with her determined ‘nothing’. So much for Lina’s softer side.

As they’r reworking the film, RF decides he wants a big dance number in the show. After some thought, Cosmo comes up with the idea of merging 18th century France with modern-day New York, via a dancing hopeful who gets hit on the head and wakes up as a French aristocrat – entirely plausible! As he starts to demonstrate his idea to R F, Don steps into Cosmo’s place, and then he and the company perform the Broadway Melody section, including an extended dance section featuring Ebony Molina. This was well done, and I do like this style of dance. At the end of this, Cosmo steps back into Don’s place, and R F gives the go-ahead.

With the film remade, the premier gets a wonderful reception, and Lina is determined to claim the limelight. She insists that Kathy will do her voice from now on instead of having a career of her own, which threatens to ruin everything, but Cosmo has a sneaky plan. With Lina out front unable to carry a tune, the audience are starting to get restless, but then Kathy’s singing kicks in and all is well. Then Cosmo raises the curtain behind Lina so that the audience can see who’s really doing it, and the fraud is exposed. Happiness all round, except for Lina, of course. There’s a rousing chorus of You Are My Lucky Star, and then the cast come through in small groups to take their bows, rushing off immediately afterwards. The water has started seeping again, so we know we’re in for another soaking.

Sure enough, the cast return wearing raincoats and carrying umbrellas, and proceed to dance their way through a reprise of Singin’ In The Rain. With the stage so full, the water travels much further – are they trying to set a record for how far back the water goes? Finally they’re done and take their final bows, and we can head out into the dry night, humming happily to ourselves.

The whole production was great, and the cast looked like they were having a good time too, even with the soaking they all get. Sandra Dickinson and Michael Brandon as Dora Bailey and R F Simpson respectively were good in their roles, and the dancing and singing were top class. We’ve booked to see this again in September, and I’m looking forward to it, even if we are in Row C again!

© 2011 Sheila Evans at

MasterClass – November 2010


By: Terence McNally

Directed by: Jonathan Church

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Tuesday 23rd November 2010

This was a rather weak star vehicle, still enjoyable but not the best writing. The setting is a master class by Maria Callas (Stephanie Beacham), during which she tells us her life story, goes into long reminiscences about her time with Aristotle Onassis, and critiques several wannabe singers, all young and optimistic until she rips their egos to shreds. The class bit itself was quite good, and we get to hear some of the wonderful songs she made her own, as well as enjoying her merciless ‘teaching’ of the young singers. I found the Onassis bits tended to drag, while the solo introduction was a bit too long and self-indulgent. However, the overall experience was good, and I hope they do well on tour.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

The Critic – July 2010


By R B Sheridan

Directed by Jonathan Church and Sean Foley

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Monday 5th July 2010

Second play of the double bill, this wasn’t quite as sparkly as I remembered from the National production, where the collapsing scenery at the end was massively impressive. To be fair, this is a smaller theatre and Health and Safety would probably be a bit squeamish about putting the audience at risk, but even so the theatrical effects were still pretty good. I liked the waves and ships, and the final falling wall providing a Buster Keaton moment was good fun. The costumes were spot on, literally in some cases, and the dialogue was pretty good, although Sheridan can be pretty impenetrable at times to the modern ear.

Again, I found Nicholas Le Provost’s delivery less clear than the others, but overall the performances were fine, with Una Stubbs again turning in a superb performance as the largely unspeaking maid.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

The Real Inspector Hound – July 2010


By Tom Stoppard

Directed by Jonathan Church and Sean Foley

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Monday 5th July 2010

This was the first play of the double bill. Even though I knew the play, it took me a few moments to realise what was going on, as the Minerva’s seating has been rearranged to include seats at the back before. This time, I spotted Richard McCabe, and realised the seats at the back were for the cast.

When the second critic arrived, the lights had already gone down so he had to sneak on past the audience like a regular latecomer. The extra cast members sitting around the two critics were a plus this time – I think the two men sat in splendid isolation in the National production – although it did seem a little odd that they weren’t bothered by two men chatting away next to them.

The set was excellent for the stylised crime piece the critics are watching. A few pieces of furniture places around the central square created the drawing room, and across the corner nearest us was the sofa which concealed the dead body. Una Stubbs was marvellous as the charlady, the rest of the cast were also excellent at conveying the mannered delivery of the time/genre, and the only let down was Nicholas Le Provost’s delivery, which lost a lot of the dialogue as far as I was concerned.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at

The Grapes Of Wrath – August 2009


By John Steinbeck, adapted by Frank Galati

Directed by Jonathan Church

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 6th August 2009

I would like to be able to rate this performance, but thanks to an unusually nauseating set design (from the usually reliable Simon Higlett) I had to leave after half an hour. The stage floor sloped one way, the house/barn walls and advertising hoarding at the back sloped another, and my head was starting to spin within ten minutes. I just couldn’t adjust to being in a sloping theatre, especially as my body was sure I was sitting upright while my eyes told me I wasn’t. Very unpleasant, and from the reaction of the staff when I came out, not the first time they’ve had to help audience members with this problem. The staff were, as always, kindness itself, though it doesn’t make up for having to miss what may otherwise be a very good production.

Steve stayed for the rest of the show, and reported it as OK, but not that enjoyable. The first half, while they were on the road, was a bit slow and less interesting, but the second half was better, with about five mini-plays in different locations. The water at the edge of the stage was used as a river a couple of times, with one of the actors jumping right in, fully clothed, and splashing the front row! (From the post-show, they didn’t mind, as it was a pretty warm night.) Once the remaining characters got into the barn at the end, Steve half-remembered the story from seeing it last time (Steppenwolf, National), though a lot of the audience didn’t seem to get that the breastfeeding was the end.

He stayed for the post-show as well, and it wasn’t until someone raised the question of the sloping set – the actors said it wasn’t that bad – that Steve actually looked at it and found that he was getting a headache trying to make sense of the angles. No one commented on the choice of this play alongside Oklahoma, sadly, though both Steve and I spotted a visual connection at the start of this production. There were wheat sheaves all over the stage at the start, and a golden glow from the sun. The men and women all came on to stand on the stage, presumably looking at the sunset, then the women left and the men swung the sheaves up on their shoulders and took them off. It was as if the earlier musical had segued into this play, but we don’t know if it was intentional or simply a factor of the common territory being covered.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at

The Circle – August 2008


By Somerset Maugham

Directed by Jonathan Church

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Tuesday 5th August 2008

I don’t think I’ve seen this particular Maugham play before, but as with most of his plays, the plot isn’t what you would call complex, so I felt very much at home with the story soon after the start. This isn’t a criticism, as I don’t go to a Maugham play expecting convoluted plots with lots of twists; the gentle teasing out of the human condition with some good laughs along the way is enough for me.

The opening was a little confusing though, as it wasn’t immediately clear who was married to whom. Arnold, the main husband in the story, is actually married to Elizabeth, but his attitude towards her in the opening scene is more that of a father than a husband, and she does look young enough to be his daughter.

We get the relationships sorted out at the same time as we learn about the situation. Arnold’s father Clive has arrived back unexpectedly from France, and will be staying in his lodge in the grounds (we’re talking posh folk here) at the same time as his runaway ex-wife Kitty and the lover she ran off with thirty years ago pay their first visit to the family home since they scarpered. Oops, how embarrassing. It turns out that Elizabeth has some romantic notions about the woman who would have been her mother-in-law, and wants to meet her. As events unfold, it seems likely that part of the attraction is Elizabeth’s own discontent with her marriage, and the possibility she sees of repeating the process with her own new love.

Arnold isn’t at all keen to see his mother again. She left when he was five and he hasn’t seen her since, but he grudgingly accepts his wife’s choice to invite her down. He comes across as a stuffed shirt with very little affection for his wife, but with a penchant for interior design. His father Clive is a smooth operator, who’s adjusted to life without his spouse by deciding to enjoy himself to the full. The scandal of his wife running off with another titled politician, who was also a good friend, meant Clive had to resign his government post, so he’s spent his time, and some of his considerable wealth, having fun. He’s fairly relaxed about everything, and doesn’t mind seeing Kitty again.

The other house guests are Anna, presumably an old family friend, and Teddy, a relatively poor chap who has been working on plantations out in Malaysia and is keen to get back there. He gives us the outsider’s view of English society, and is also the man that Elizabeth adores. Fortunately, he loves her as well, so we’re all set for a jolly romp and the two older lovebirds haven’t even turned up yet!

Actually, I’ve got ahead of myself. Once Elizabeth has explained the situation to Clive, and he’s agreed to stay out of the way (he doesn’t), the final couple arrive. Played by Susan Hampshire (Kitty) and Phillip Voss (Hughie), these are definitely not romantic lovebirds, nestling and cooing at each other. More like an arthritic porcupine with a hangover and a batty old hen with a lipstick fetish (I mean this in a nice way.) These two bicker and argue, Hughie insults everyone who comes in range, and Kitty does her best to get on with everyone, even asking her ex if he’d like to take her back. He declines the offer. Over the three acts, Elizabeth gets to see what can happen to an illicit couple who are shunned by polite company, but still she’s determined to make a new life for herself with a new man.

Seeing what’s up, Clive devises a plan to help Arnold keep his woman. Arnold’s already blown it once, by reacting badly when Elizabeth first confronts him with her choice, but his father’s taught him that the way to win her back is to give her the opportunity for noble self-sacrifice. So Arnold apologises to Elizabeth for his earlier behaviour, and withdraws any objections to her plans, insisting on giving her a generous allowance which she can use if she wants. His only stipulation is that he will not divorce her; but as I recall he gives her the means to divorce him. I remember thinking at the time that she needed to think of the effect her actions would have on him, and now she does. Her heart is wrung with pity, and with additional input from Kitty explaining what a tough time she would have, she decides to do the noble thing and stay with her husband.

Summoning Teddy, who was waiting for her in the summerhouse (Arnold had banished him from the house, but he was staying at a local hotel), she tells him of her decision, and he thinks she’s barking mad. However, through his own straightforwardness, he comes up with the ideal argument to change her mind yet again. He spells out for her that he’s not offering her happiness, or an easy life, or a comfortable one. There will be rows, and loneliness, and boredom, people will snub them, and there will be all sorts of other unpleasantness. But he still wants her to come with him and share his life regardless. What woman could resist? Kitty and Hughie are still there to lend moral support, which they keep undermining through their excitement at seeing two young lovebirds getting together, and Teddy and Elizabeth are soon driving off in Hughie’s car, which Teddy had thoughtfully taken out of the garage, just in case. And to much applause from the audience, as well.

After they’ve gone, Clive turns up feeling well satisfied that he’s sorted out Arnold’s little spot of bother with the missus. The other two keep their knowledge to themselves, leaving him to boast of his cleverness as the sounds of the car engine fade into the distance. And that’s how it ends.

It was a very enjoyable evening, with very entertaining performances from all the cast. Nearly a 7/10 rating, but the play itself doesn’t have quite the scope to get us there. The set was impressive, with a polished black tiled floor, ornate and formal furniture, and a false perspective view at the back showing us a classical style garden shed at the bottom of the garden.

There was a post-show, of course. Jonathan Church was there, along with David Yelland (Clive), Bertie Carver (an excellent lead in Parade, and here playing Teddy), Charity Wakefield (Elizabeth), and later Susan Hampshire (Kitty). Susan Hampshire had appeared in a production of this same play back in the 1970s, also at Chichester, so naturally when she arrived the first question for her was whether the audience response had changed at all in that time. Apparently not. The question of Arnold’s potential homosexuality came up – he doesn’t have sex with his wife, and likes interior design – and the possible connection to Maugham, himself a homosexual. They had decided not to try and bring that sort of idea into the production, as it’s not specified in the text, and they didn’t want to impose it on the play. I brought up the confusion about who was married to whom at the start, and this led to a lot of information on the work that was done to establish the problems in the relationship between Elizabeth and Arnold, and to tie Teddy’s personality in with that. They’d worked very hard to get just the right approach for each of the characters, and I personally think it worked very well. Someone mentioned how similar many of Clive’s lines were to Oscar Wilde’s style, and David Yelland agreed – there had already been a reference to sub-Wildean dialogue in some reviews.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at

Nicholas Nickleby part 2 – September 2007


By: Charles Dickens, adapted by David Edgar

Directed by: Jonathan Church and Philip Franks

Venue: Chichester Festival Theatre

Date: Thursday 20th September 2007

First we attended the pre-show event in the Minerva, where Philip Franks chatted with David Edgar about this production and adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby. Both of them were knowledgeable and entertaining, so the time flew, and I’m not sure how much I can remember now. David covered the choice of play to adapt fairly briefly (there are notes in the program) and again emphasised how lucky it was that he agreed to do this book instead of Our Mutual Friend. What came across as he talked was that he isn’t as familiar with Dickens work as might be supposed. Philip talked about his enthusiasm for the full-length version first done at Stratford, which he visited regularly in his younger days.

There was talk about the changes between last year’s production and this year, and Philip confirmed that there was more light and shade in the performances: Daniel Weyman as Nicholas had been determined to rise to the challenge last year, which was appropriate enough, but this year he knew he could do it and was now able to look for ways to play the young man unsure of how to handle the world and the situations he finds himself in. The scene where he has to decide whether to take Smike with him or not was much more moving this time, and I certainly felt the decision wasn’t an easy one.

I asked if there were any changes David still wanted to make, and if the play had been translated at all. Both David and Philip answered the first point. David felt there had to come a time when you said “enough’s enough” and let the piece be, although there was still some tinkering even this year. Philip has a file called Reclaim, where he keeps all the bits he wants to see back in the production – by the time they get to Plymouth, it may be back to two four hour parts! This year, they had put back in some lines where Nicholas and Kate are showing Smike the house where they grew up, lines about how it always seemed to be summer then.

On the translation point, the play has been translated, particularly into Swedish and Finnish, for some reason – not so much into other European languages. David appears to go to just about every production he can, and told us how strange it was to hear the Swedish version, where the only things he could make out were the proper names – a gabble of Swedish, then “Mrs Nagg”, etc. He also mentioned another version of his original, which had been done by a theatre group themselves, which brought out different aspects of the play, and Philip mentioned yet another version he’d seen, which David was surprised by – one he didn’t know about! There were other points, and all very entertaining, and the end came all too soon. But at least we had the pleasant prospect of a good evening’s entertainment.

Steve noticed the cameras first – I was oblivious. This show was being recorded (I assume the matinee had also been filmed) as part of the Open University program. We speculated on whether the DVD will be available – if so, don‘t stand between us and the shelves or you may get knocked down in the rush!

The performance started with a “previously, on Nicholas Nickleby”. The cast skimmed through the first half’s events in a wonderful way, introducing us to the characters again, and bringing us up to speed with the plot. It got a tremendous round of applause, and got the whole evening off to a great start.

The second part of this story is a bit quieter, although there isn’t as much suffering on view. (Philip described it as being in a minor key at the pre-show). Nicholas gets to meet the Cheeryble brothers, and their superb cheerfulness lights up this half. They’re wearing bright orange wigs, and when Nicholas meets their nephew, we realise straightaway who he is once he takes off his hat and reveals the same colour of hair.

Nicholas is back with his family, and all seems well, but Smike is poorly, and when Nicholas and Kate take him to see their childhood home, he’s so ill he dies. This was definitely an occasion for tears. Eventually, Uncle Ralph’s evil plans to make Nicholas suffer, and force an innocent girl into a disgusting marriage, come to nothing when Newman Noggs, overhearing the plan, takes matters into his own hands and saves the day. As Ralph Nickleby’s machinations collapse around him, he wanders the streets, trying to find some way out. This was well portrayed, and I felt much more the suffering that Ralph goes through before ending it all in the very bedroom Smike had lived in all those years ago. I felt there was a small chance that he could have changed things round, and become a better person, rather than seeing him as completely irredeemable, but it didn’t quite happen, sadly.

With Ralph and his plots out of the way, all the various couples are free to marry and enjoy life, with many of them going on to happier and happier lives. Dotheboys Hall is trashed, by the remaining “scholars”, and a most sombre note is struck by showing us that these boys have nowhere else to go. One lad is left, freezing in the winter weather, until Nicholas finally rescues him – another tearful moment, and one that will probably go down very well this Christmas.

All in all, I enjoyed this second romp through the Nickleby story. There was still plenty of humour, plenty of sentiment, and lots of energy from the cast. As the audience were pretty responsive, too, I hope they got some good footage for the OU.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at