Rain Man – October 2009

8/10

Adapted from the screenplay by Dan Gordon

Directed by Robin Herford

Venue: Richmond Theatre

Date: Wednesday 28th OCtober 2009

This was a very good adaptation of the screenplay and the performances, particularly of the two leads, were excellent. I cried. What more could I ask for?

The story included all the main points from the film though some scenes were dropped, such as the actual driving, and some were condensed or reported, so that for example the burning scene in the flat was mentioned at the court ordered review of Raymond’s situation. We still got the wheeling and dealing at the start, the delivery of the bad news to Charlie (not that his father’s dead, but that he just gets the car and the rose bushes) the kidnapping and attempted flight via, well, flight, the road trip and visit to Las Vegas and the final review meeting. All the way through both Neil Morrissey as Raymond and Oliver Chris as Charlie gave us perfectly judged performances. Raymond had lots of twitches and a tendency to look up and away, while Charlie was a seriously unpleasant bastard to start with but gradually softened as he discovered who Raymond really was to become just an average bastard by the end. And on the way Raymond gets some decent clothes, a dance with a beautiful woman, a kiss and a chance to drive his father’s car. He does miss out on a date with a dancing hooker, of course, but that’s probably for the best.

I don’t remember the film giving me such a strong sense that Charlie has actually done his brother some good by taking him out for a while, though as with the film we could see how Charlie benefited from his anger coming up against an immovable object. The adaptation had also been updated to include more recent plane crashes including one of the ones that hit the twin towers, which really got Raymond going. From memory, I think Qantas has now lost its perfect record on accidents so updating the dialogue is a double edged sword, but it still worked fine on stage.

The set was very flexible, with panels sliding on and off for walls and the ‘spare’ cast doing furniture removal duty. It all went very smoothly, and it was nice to see the understudies actually get something to do as extras in the public scenes. We both enjoyed this very much, and as I said before, I cried. Brilliant.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Bedroom Farce – June 2007

6/10

By: Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by: Robin Herford

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 11th June 2007

This is an early Ayckbourn, and I enjoyed being reminded of his early style. It hasn’t dated too badly, although mentioning emails and still using 70s style phones did seem a bit out of kilter.

The play is set in three bedrooms. Delia (Louise Jameson) and Ernest (Colin Baker) are heading out for an anniversary meal. Their son, Trevor (Ben Porter), is one of those walking disaster areas so pivotal in early Ayckbourn plays, and he’s married Susannah (Beth Cordingly), a good match in terms of an ability to cause chaos without really trying. They’re going through a bit of difficulty in their marriage, and the time they spend in the company of other couples may help them to resolve their problems, but doesn’t do much for the others.

There’s Jan (Hannah Yelland), one of Trevor’s previous girlfriends, of whom Delia is still very fond, and who seems to still have a bit of feeling left for Trevor, despite her reputation for common sense. She’s married to Nick (Timothy Watson), who’s stuck in bed with some painful injury to a motor muscle, and behaving very badly. It may be because of his injury, but I suspect it’s a bit more widespread than that. Jan leaves him for a short while to go to a house-warming at Kate (Natalie Cassidy) and Malcolm’s place. They’re relatively newly married, and still finding out about each other. Malcolm (James Midgley) has a habit of leaving various items in the bed – hairbrush, frying pan, that sort of thing. He also thinks he can do DIY, but can’t, though Trevor’s attempts to help certainly don’t improve things. Between Trevor and Susannah, nobody gets much sleep, despite all of the action being set in the bedrooms of Delia and Ernest, Nick and Jan, and Kate and Malcolm.

As usual, it took a while to get going, as all the characters and relationships had to be established first. I did like Delia’s line about the restaurant keeping the table for them as they were regulars – “we go there every year!” All the performances were very enjoyable. I possibly liked Nick best, though there wasn’t a lot in it. The humour is mainly of the embarrassing sort so I didn’t always feel comfortable with it, but by the end I was thoroughly enjoying it all.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Hound Of The Baskervilles – March 2007

6/10

By: Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by Clive Francis

Directed by: Robin Herford

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 19th March 2007

We’ve seen a number of Sherlock Homes adaptations recently, and enjoyed the way so few actors could represent so many characters. This promised to be the same, but with Peter Egan and Philip Franks as the two leads, we were having to dampen our expectations, so as not to get too excited.

The production was being done by the same folk who did The Woman In Black – I wasn’t sure what this would mean, but we soon found out. The stage was almost filled with two large screens. On the front one, a view of an open book was projected, with a blank page on the left, and the start of the story on the right. The text was blurred – Steve suggested this was to stop the audience reading the book, and getting to the end before the play did. The screen behind wasn’t visible at first, but as the action moved from place to place, the technical effects came into their own. The first screen “cleared”, and behind it we could see a bridge, with rocks around it. The second screen then gave us the backdrop – hills, hallway, etc – and these, together with the lighting, created a lot of atmospheric settings. We also had glimpses of Holmes from time to time – one item to note was that the violin playing was all done by Mrs Hudson (the actress playing her, that is).

In front of the screens, on what was left of the stage, were four “piles” of books and papers – these served as seats, tables, railway carriages, and anything else required, being shunted around as needed. The backdrop on the front screen changed regularly, which was very helpful in establishing where we were. The billiards table was invisible. So much for the set.

There were three other actors filling out the cast for this play, and they each covered a number of parts. Hattie Ladbury, as well as giving us her violin-playing Mrs Hudson, was the Baskerville housekeeper, Stapleton’s sister/wife, and the woman Stapleton proposes marriage to. Andrew Harrison was mainly Sir Henry Baskerville, but doubled as a cabbie and a postmaster, while Rupert Mason did just about everything else – Barrymore the butler, Stapleton himself, Mortimer the neighbour, plus station porters and a coach driver. I did find myself wishing they could have stretched to another actor to help spread the roles out a bit more, although I don’t intend to fault any of the actors for either their performances or their quick changes. The difference between the bit parts and the leads was noticeable, however, and it would be nice to see the other actors get more of a chance to flesh out their roles, rather than simply differentiating them.

The story is well known, so I won’t go into details. I wasn’t aware of anything missing, although there were some descriptions in the opening scenes which I think were taken from other stories and books. The hound was created by special effects, and worked very well, and the whole evening had a distinctly “Clive Francis” feel to it – slightly camp and pleasantly entertaining.

The main bonus was the two fine central performances. I enjoyed seeing Philip Franks on stage again, and his portrayal of Watson was fine. It didn’t stretch him much, but he gave us a good version of the affable sidekick who’s always that bit behind the main detective, but mainly because he’s working with such a supreme genius. His caring and his emotional reactions, so essential for the audience to relate to, were warming and funny. Peter Egan as Holmes was excellent. He carried such authority, and showed the unpleasant side of Holmes as well – not caring for anything except the mental stimulation and challenge, but so brilliant that people forgave him. It was easy to spot him in disguise, of course, which is another reason an extra actor might have helped for anyone not familiar with the story. Still, it was a classy performance, and one of my favourite Holmes representations.

Finally, I enjoyed the way they finished the play, with Mrs Hudson announcing another visitor who refuses to go without seeing Holmes – Professor Moriarty. The lights go down on Holmes and Watson sharing a look of astonishment. Good fun.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Arsenic And Old Lace – November 2006

Experience: 6/10

By Joseph Kesselring

Directed by Robin Herford

Venue: Connaught Theatre

Date: Wednesday 22nd November 2006

          This was a very entertaining evening. The play is a marvellous comedy, and this production brought out a lot of the humour. The two old ladies, played by Louise Jameson and Sherrie Hewson, were excellent – I particularly liked Sherrie Hewson as Aunt Martha giving a little shiver of excitement when a new prospect turned up. Ian Targett as Mortimer Brewster handled all the double takes and the emotional rollercoaster very well, which set off the aunts’ dottiness perfectly.

I’d forgotten just how many twists the plot has, with dead bodies being bundled hither and thither, and lots of tables being turned. It’s great fun to see the scene setting at the start, with these two delightful old ladies in their peaceful house, knowing what’s really going on, and one of my favourite parts is when Jonathan realises his dotty old aunts have matched him in murder! Priceless.

Wayne Sleep was also very good as Dr Einstein, and the rest of the cast gave excellent support. We had an understudy for Elaine Harper tonight, and although I couldn’t hear her very well in the first scene, she’d sharpened up her delivery after that (possibly someone let her know she wasn’t carrying enough?) and every word came across just fine. An excellent night out and the best thing I’ve seen at the Connaught for a while.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Strangers On A Train – June 2006

Experience: 6/10

By Craig Warner, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith

Directed by Robin Herford

Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton

Date: Wednesday 28th June 2006

          Interesting production, this. I haven’t read the book, but this play must be closer to the novel than the movie version. Same start – two strangers meeting on a train, leading to murder and mayhem. Much more psychological than the Hitchcock, and in some ways much darker, less sensational.

Obviously, this had to work on the stage, so forget seeing the funfair. A lot had to be reported rather than shown. And there were lots of pauses while the sets were trundled on and off stage. Even so, this was pretty tightly scripted – a study of insanity and how it could entrap and almost destroy a relatively normal human being. In the end, Guy Haines, the architect who is drawn into Charles Bruno’s deadly plan, is saved by the love of a morally ambiguous woman. She tells him she doesn’t love him for his goodness, which begs the question what does she love him for then? At one point, it seemed the easiest thing would be for Guy and his new bride (Charlie boy bumped off the original) to murder Charlie as he hides under their roof, and dispose of the body, but we had a bit further to go, and in the end Charlie tops himself with Guy’s gun, the one used to kill Charlie’s father and which was discarded in the woods. A relief in many ways, especially as the investigator, one Arthur Gerard (played by Colin Baker), had decided to let the matter drop, even though he pretty much knew the whole story.

The emotional and mental journey was an interesting one, with lots of moral ambiguity to challenge the audience’s beliefs. Did good triumph in the end? And what of the lives of Guy and Anne afterwards – he’d been so stricken with guilt before he’d killed Charlie’s dad, how would he carry on now? Lots to think about.

Good performances all round, especially the two leads – Alex Ferns as Charles Bruno, nicely psychotic, suave and assured at the start, disintegrating into twitchy insanity by the end, and Will Thorp as Guy Haines, a straightforward guy who gets caught up in a nightmare he can’t handle until he finally tells all (in print) to his new wife.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me